May This Bible Please You


Codex Toletanus from the collection of the National Museum of Spain

This is Part Nine of my series on the canon of Scripture.  Please begin here; the series will be incomprehensible to you if you don’t begin at the beginning.  This is a history mystery, so pay careful attention to all the clues scattered about.  Note the index to the left: listed are the books of the Old Testament in a 9th-century Bible manuscript.  They are in Latin, but you can make out (in the second column) the names of the deuterocanonical books.

Major Myth #1 concerning the canon of Scripture has already been shot down: “The Catholic Church ADDED 7 books to the Bible at the Council of Trent.” How could the Church have ADDED books to the Bible which were already there? Our Protestant protagonist has also watched the corollary to Major Myth #1 crash and burn – the notion that the Protestant Reformers KNEW which books belonged in the Bible and therefore confidently proclaimed to the world the 66-book Protestant canon of Scripture as opposed to the Catholic canon with its “additional” books.

Our protagonist was appalled when he learned that Martin Luther set himself up as a judge of which books belong in the canon of Scripture, shunting Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation to a section at the end of the New Testament because he considered them less “biblical” than other New Testament books. But now our hero has discovered that many of the Reformers had issues with SEVEN books of the New Testament, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation, declaring them to be substandard and warning against their use in the formation of doctrinal principles. The New Testament canon was literally up in the air during the Protestant Reformation. How could the Reformers take it upon themselves to rethink the canon of Holy Scripture?? What was the cause of all this confusion over the canon??

You try to determine the root of all this confusion. It is obvious that Wycliffe, whose Bible mixed the Apocrypha in with inspired Scripture rather than segregating those books from the rest of the Old Testament, must have used a substandard manuscript when translating – that would explain where he got the idea that the Apocrypha belonged in the Bible. That must be where all this confusion began. If you can find older, more reliable manuscripts, you will have the answer to your question right there – you will be able to pinpoint the beginning of the confusion concerning the Apocrypha.

You scramble to finish this up before the library closes. You remember that Wycliffe depended on the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible for his English translation. “Wait, that’s where he went wrong!” you whisper to yourself. The Vulgate – isn’t that a Catholic Bible? No wonder the books of the Apocrypha were mixed in with the real books! Now, if you can just find manuscripts that list the real books of the Bible, without all these Catholic accretions, you will have solved your problem. Finally!!

You search through any references you can find to the contents of Bible manuscripts that would have been around at the time of Luther or before. You make a list with two columns, one for the Bible manuscripts that contained Apocryphal books, and one for the manuscripts that excluded them. The first list fills up rather quickly:

The printer responsible for the famous Gutenberg Bible, published nearly 100 years before Luther’s translation, mixed the Old Testament Apocrypha in with the real books. You also find a reference to a Polish translation from the 15th century which does the same.

Wycliffe’s translation from 14th-century England also does this.

The Spanish Biblia Alfonsina of the 13th century has Apocryphal books in the Old Testament.

The Lambeth Bible, a beautifully illuminated 12th-century manuscript from England, contains the Apocrypha mixed in among the books of the Old Testament. Wisdom and the first half of Sirach are in the manuscripts of the Bible of a heretical group, the Waldenses. These manuscripts are dated by some scholars to the 12th century. There are marginal notes referring to the books of Judith, Tobit, 4 Esdras, Wisdom, Sirach and Susanna.

Good King Aelfric of 11th-century England tells of how he translated the Apocryphal books of Maccabees and Judith into English, apparently on the understanding that they were Holy Scripture.

The 10th-century Codex Cavensis and the 9th-century Codex Toletanus, two Bible manuscripts, both contain the Apocryphal books mixed with those you know to be Holy Scripture.

A 9th-century French manuscript of the first Bible of Charles the Bald contains dedicatory verses listing the books included in that Bible:

“O blessed King Charles, may this Bible please you, for it contains the two Testaments that should be read again and again…. For here is the fount, here the powerful teaching, here the overflowing streams of the holy church whiter than snow, that is, the five joined volumes of high-singing Moses shine; they sing up until the death of that man. The leader Joshua rises up mighty in arms, leads the people into [their] homeland, [and] the law takes hold of that place. Behold, the seventh book proclaims the name of the judges, under whose power the Hebrew host lived. The deeds, descent, times, places, wars and victories of these people were inserted in it with their deserved distinction. There was one noble woman, Ruth, associated with them, whom Job, a man of outstanding faith follows. It is pleasing to imitate this man, since he possessed outstanding patience and was a great model for us. Four books of Kings [come] before sixteen books of Prophets, to which the hymnifier David is joined; David, who sang the rhythmical songs of the Psalms, often speaks of the many mysteries of Christ. From his royal seed the Virgin Mary came forth; this blessed Virgin gave birth to God. Peaceful Solomon [comes next], and then [the Book of] Wisdom. The third book following them is Jesus [ben Sirach]. After comes Chronicles, then Ezra or Nehemiah, and at this point Esther, Judith and Tobit also sing. Then the renowned Maccabean battles on behalf of the law, the land, and the salvation given [them] thunder forth. Indeed, this old Scripture stands briefly recalled [here], although in a meager and rather rustic style. The teachings of the New Testament begin….”

A Slavonic translation of Scripture from the 9th century also has the Apocryphal books mingling with the real books.

Four codices of the 8th century, the Basilano-Vaticanus and Venetus, the Amiatinus, the Paulinus, and the Statinus tell the same story – genuine books side-by-side with Old Testament Apocrypha.

The Codex Ambrosianus from the 6th and 7th century contains the Apocrypha. The Codex Marchalianus, a 6th-century Greek Bible manuscript, contains the 12 minor prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Baruch, Ezekiel, and Daniel with the additions of Susanna and Bel and the Dragon.

The Old Ethiopic translation dates from the 5th or 6th century, and there are those Apocryphal books. Also from the 5th century, both the Armenian translation and the Georgian translation of the Bible contain the Apocrypha in with the books you recognize as Holy Scripture, as do the Codex Alexandrinus and the Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus.

The 4th-century Codex Vaticanus, the Codex Claromontanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, contemporary with the Vulgate version of the Bible, follow this setup, as do the translations into Gothic and Coptic. Earlier than the 4th century the writings of the earliest Christians cite the Vetus Italia, or Old Latin version of the Scriptures, and guess what – there are those Apocryphal books….

Gee, your first column has really filled up fast! A lot of Old Testament manuscripts down through the centuries throughout the Christian world certainly seem to have included the Apocryphal books in with Holy Scripture….

Quite a lot… In fact, perhaps most….

Perhaps ALL???


For a summary of the first nine parts, please click here

On the memorial of St. Marianne Cope

Deo omnis gloria!

  1. pantacrator said:

    Well then, I guess that should be the end of that myth that Katliks added books to the bible! Let us see how this can be refuted! I don’t think it can. Clearly Luther removed books, not Catholics added. Bravo !

  2. I don’t think any of the popular authors who use this argument really believe it; it just doesn’t hold water! But, the idea that Catholics ADDED books to the Bible is so off-putting that it pays to propagate that myth. How many unsuspecting Protestants have read that false claim and thought “Oh my gosh, the Catholic Church really is reprehensible!”

  3. Thanks for writing this. For 40+ years now, I’ve struggled with trying to grasp how my Protestant brothers and sisters can believe many of the central distinguishing tenants of Protestantism, on both historical and logical grounds. I mean, this whole Cannon issue isn’t even the most egregious bunch of nonsense:

    I suspect that the comeback against your beautifully laid out history is the dreaded Great Apostasy – you know, slightly before the oldest cannon found, all the *real* Christians were driven underground, and the mean old Catholic Church started making stuff up – AND managed to eradicate all evidence that they did so, except in a few places where they didn’t. Meanwhile, those real Christians in hiding didn’t manage to leave so much as a trace of themselves until Luther, who was, you know, a Catholic priest until he all the sudden became a secret hidden Christian. Or something.

    And that makes sense? All those early Church fathers that Catholics have read for centuries, who sound pretty darn Catholic – they are what, exactly? Apostates, I guess – unless evil albino monks scrubbed their works of all *real* Christianity, and added all that stuff about the real Presence and Many?

    Anyway, keep it up – I appreciate you laying out the claims and the thought processes.

    • And I appreciate your very entertaining comments!

      I am using Protestant sources in this series, so that it hopefully will become evident that this isn’t all some Catholic conspiracy to conceal the truth about the canon. I spent my free time one summer in the library of the local Baptist university reading what Protestant authors have written about the canon. It was enlightening, to say the least!

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