It’s not understood all that well.  How did the Protestant Church settle on the books that should be included in our Bible? There are several erroneous ideas about how this happened. And there is little understanding about the books that were once included in the broader Christian Bible and later were banished. And today, several other questionable books have become popular but are not part of the Apocrypha either. 

It is rather astonishing when you think about it that Christianity relies upon its Bible to define what we believe and how we should live our lives, but generally speaking, most Christians don’t know how we arrived at the 66 books that we call the Bible. We don’t know the difference between the Catholic and Protestant Bible. We don’t understand why the Orthodox Church uses the Septuagint for its Old Testament.

A page from P46, a collection of Pauline epistles from the early 3rd Century.

There are 39 books in our Old Testament (OT). There are 27 books in our New Testament (NT). But did you know this arrangement has only been the case for less than 200 years? Up to the time of the Reformation, the Bible of the Church was the Septuagint (LXX) in the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Vulgate in the Western Roman Catholic Church.  The Bible we know today (comprising only 66 books) would not come into vogue until the nineteenth century and for matters of cost and convenience.

The Septuagint means “the Seventy” for the 70 translators who created its first phase, the Pentateuch (involving “five scrolls”), aka Torah (literally meaning “teaching”). This Greek version of the original Hebrew “Old” Testament was assembled circa 282 B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt, at the behest of Ptolemy I (Soter). Other books would be translated from Hebrew into Greek for the next 130 years or so. Several other books would be added to it that were originally written in Greek, which we know as 1,2,3 and 4 Maccabees. [1] The Greek Bible would be so effectively utilized in evangelism by the new sect that among the rabbis, the LXX was known as “the Christian Bible” during the second century A.D.

The Vulgate means “commonly used translation” and was translated by Jerome in 405 A.D.  It was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 A.D.  As the reader probably knows, it’s the Latin Bible used almost exclusively by the Roman Catholic Church. Most of the “other books,” the Apocrypha included in the Septuagint, were also placed within the Vulgate. And the Vulgate was translated directly from Akiba’s Hebrew “rabbinic” Bible rather than from the Greek Septuagint.


Figure 1 – The Books of the Apocrypha

Perhaps surprisingly, these “other” books were not included in the Hebrew Bible as it was assembled by the rabbis circa 100-120 A.D. in Jamnia, Palestine, under the direction of Rabbi Akiba. The Protestant Bible we have today owes in part to this Rabbi – who was no supporter of Christians. The Apocrypha is handled differently among the three primary branches of Christianity (Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants). Variations exist between the Septuagint and the Vulgate based on their assigned names and their location in the Bible (whether separate or embedded in another canonical book, e.g., Bel and the Dragon included within Daniel).

We should note that while they appear in the Latin Vulgate, they were first present in the Septuagint. These “other” books Jerome translated included what is known as “additions to Esther” and “additions to Daniel” (initially produced by Theodotion in the second century A.D.). Other Apocryphal books translated into the Latin Vulgate from the Greek Septuagint (apparently by someone other than Jerome as there are notable changes in style) were the following: Baruch, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees, 3 and 4 Esdras, the Prayer of Manasseh, and Psalm 151.

The Septuagint was altered following the completion of three new Greek translations (Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion) later in the second century, thanks to the coverage given them by one very impactful Christian, Origen. All three of these Greek versions proffered alternative Greek versions differing from the original Alexandrian Septuagint (completed over a 300 to 400-year period). [2] Origen would make a mess when he created the Hexapla – a six-column,” multi-linear” text – which attempted to reconcile the differences between the revised Hebrew and the three new Greek Bibles linked to it with Origen’s “harmonized version” in column 5. The first column was Hebrew, and the second column was a transliteration of Hebrew into Greek. Origen sought to bring these together as an aid to Evangelism. He did not want to debate the veracity of Christianity by using verses from the Septuagint that were not in the Akiba Hebrew Bible. However, the Hexapla was unwieldy due to its massive size (imagine six bibles strapped together in large pages on heavy vellum). It passed out of existence sometime in the sixth or seventh century (possibly destroyed by the attack of Mohammed at Antioch). This process harmed the transmission of the Old Greek by diluting the LXX. As mentioned earlier, the Syriac-Hexapla contains the markings and aids scholars in restoring the Old Greek (i.e., the Alexandrian Septuagint) to its original state.

[The above article is taken from, A BIOGRAPHY OF THE CHRISTIAN BIBLE, available at Amazon and on the Faith Happens Books store….

In the next post:  The Impact of Jerome and the Latin Vulgate on the Biblical Tradition.

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    May 14, 2023

    You're right, I knew very little. Thanks for explaining this.

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