“I did something this afternoon, something I haven’t done before,” my friend Josh said last Advent. He was driving back to my apartment after a silent day retreat.
He turned out of the neighborhood and onto the interstate. Speckled gray highway rolled beneath the headlights of his car.
“I opened the Bible on the coffee table and read one of the extra books. Maccabees.” He glanced at me. “Have you read it before? Do you know why only the Catholic Church kept it in the Bible?”
“I’ve read it, but — no. I don’t know.”
As a cradle Catholic, I was at a loss. Josh is part of a non-denominational church. In recent years, he’s started asking more about Catholicism. We’ve attended Mass together, served at retreat weekends, and even had Q&A meetings with priests. Josh was just dipping into Catholicism at that point, embarking on the Christmas season; I’d been part of the Church my whole life.
And I couldn’t answer his question.
Through talks with Josh and my Lutheran family members, I’ve realized there’s a lot of pointing fingers when it comes to who is following God’s will in our Christian church.
The Catholic Church tends to point to itself and say: “We have the seven sacraments, the true body of Christ, the communion of saints as examples of a holy life.”
“WE have the fullness of Christ,” some of its members will conclude. Some of these people will also point to Protestants: “YOU chose to break away from the church instituted by Christ. You have no hierarchy, no spiritually appointed head for insight into divine inspiration, no one leader to gather you into a universal body. You don’t understand what you lost.”
The Protestant church points to itself and says: “WE follow God’s word in the Bible. We can confess our sins, without the mediation of another person, to God. We can lay our intentions before God Himself: we don’t need saints’ intercessions. YOU worship Mary. You hold the Pope in too much esteem; he’s just a man — Jesus is God.”
Though we remain ‘one body’ under the belief in Christ, the branches of our Christian church have varying views on the church Christ instituted. We differ in opinion on how to live out Christ’s teachings, and we no longer share even the same source of His Word. We no longer draw on the same sources of life and love.
One of my most shocking moments with Josh was when I shared a Bible verse with him two years ago.
It was a verse from Wisdom, “Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with the elect.” (Wisdom 3:9)
He had no idea the words I shared were from Scripture. “What is this?” he asked.
I had no good answer for him then, either, just as I didn’t this past Advent.
I’d been told the Protestant and Catholic Bibles are different. Somewhere along my journey of faith, I’d learned there are various translations of texts and a different number of books—depending on the Christian branch. We share the same 27 books of the New Testament, but while the Protestant Bible is comprised of 39 Old Testament books the Catholic version has 46 books. The additional seven books are referred to as deuterocanonical (‘second canon’) texts or, as many Protestants know them, as the Apocrypha (meaning books not inspired by God). That was the extent of my knowledge.
Josh was the first person I encountered so closely who didn’t know the Catholic Bible and its 46 books. So, in light of his question, I dove deeper. I found that in addition to Wisdom the Catholic Bible includes Tobit, Judith, 1st and 2nd Maccabees, Sirach, and Baruch—none of which can be found in a Protestant version. The Church also kept portions of Daniel and Esther.
Why? In 70 AD, when the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, the Church began an official list of books to form the Bible. At the supposed Council of Jamnia, a Jewish council circa 100 AD, the seven deuterocanonical books were rejected for the Jews because they were not written in a certain time period. At the time there was no agreed upon, ‘closed’ Jewish scripture in the first century. The Christian councils of Rome (382 AD), Hippo (393), Carthage (397), and Florence (1442) later accepted the deuterocanonical books, acknowledging a text need not be written in a restricted time period to have come from God.
Part of the Protestant argument, though, is that Catholics added to the Old Testament and didn’t accept the deuterocanonical texts until the Council of Trent in 1546—therefore, how could these seven books be rooted in Christ?
What our Protestant family may forget is Martin Luther denied these books of the Bible. Luther assumed that, since the Jews did not include these books at the time, the books were not used when the New Testament was formed. However, most Jews and Christians were using the Greek Septuagint (the oldest Greek version of the Old Testament)—which includes the deuterocanonical books—as their Bible: when the Old Testament is quoted in the New, the verses are almost word for word from the Septuagint. The Jews later stopped using the Septuagint to distance themselves from the early Christians.
Luther and other Reformists recognized the deuterocanonical texts contradicted sola fide (‘faith alone’) theology and had reservations about their divine inspiration. Still, Luther’s original Bible translation included the deuterocanonical books in the appendix between Old and New Testaments. These parts of scripture were kept in the appendix until the 19th century, when they were removed from the Bible for the first time.
In addition to the belief these books were not accepted by the Church at the creation of the Bible, Protestants offer other reasons for the deuterocanonical books’ illegitimacy. Some cite the historical or geographical errors in Judith, the seeming claims in Sirach and 2nd Maccabees that the books are not divinely inspired, and that verses from these books aren’t quoted by Christ or his Apostles (which, when comparing passages like Matthew 27:43 to Wisdom 2:18-20 or Matthew 13:44 to Sirach 20:30, proves differently). This comes as a challenge to us to read these seven books, research Church history, study paragraphs 101-141 in the Catechism, and understand for ourselves the value of these texts.
St. Augustine writes, “I would not have believed the Gospel had not the authority of the Church moved me.” Whatever we read in the Bible, we take on faith—faith that it is divinely inspired, faith in the Christians who formed the book, and faith in the very existence of God. There is not hands-on certainty in the Bible’s perfection: like Christ’s identity, we take this on faith.
And so my answer to Josh is we are a broken people. Our church is a divided family, pointing fingers and doubting truths Christ instituted for the Church. Like a family, we argue. We bicker over whose version of history is most accurate. We disagree about who acted rightly in various situations.
As Catholics, going along with St. Augustine, we trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church through the last 2,000 years. But we, as the entire Christian body, have different renditions of our family heritage—in the Old and New Testament—but let us remember we are rooted in the same family name. We are Christian. We are Christ’s.