One major division between Catholics and Protestants is the true canon of the Bible. Catholics claim that Protestants took out 7 books of the Bible (Catholics call these “Deuterocanonicals”). Protestants on the other hand, claim that Catholics added 7 books (Protestants call these the “Apocrypha”) when the Bible was first created in the late 300s. The whole argument is based off of what the Jews regarded as scripture before Christ was alive. I take the Catholic view, and present my case below.
1. The full canon of the Hebrew Bible wasn’t closed until after Christ died.
A good question to ask is, “when was the Jewish canon closed?” This question is important because the date helps to decide whether Jews living before Christ used the 7 disputed books in their canon or not.
As for the answer, well, that depends. There are three parts of the Hebrew Bible. The first is the Torah (Pentateuch). It’s considered by all to have been accepted as inspired by at least the 5th century B.C. Next are the books of the Prophets (Neviim). These are believed to have been accepted into the canon as early as the 300s B.C., during the Persian Era. The last part of the Hebrew Bible is called the Writings (Hagiographa, or Ketuvim). This is the section that’s hotly debated. Many ascertain that the Hebrew Bible in its entirety was completed before Christ walked on earth, but there’s substantial evidence that that’s not the case. The Jewish Encyclopedia states
“It was impossible to determine the canon in the post-Maccabean period, because then the various schools of tradition began to flourish. So important a matter as the canon would not have been easily settled, as the controversies of 65 and 90 C.E. show… In some cases the critical tendency may have led only to the removal of what was rightly deemed to be later accretions, such as the additions to Daniel and Esther, while in regard to disputed writings, such as Canticles, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Ezekiel (and probably Daniel), the more liberal policy finally prevailed. While this criticism still continued in the second century of the common era, its main results appear to have been reached as early as the end of the first. Josephus ("Contra Ap." i. 8), about the year 100, counted twenty-two sacred books.”
The Jewish Virtual Library states “The conclusion of the last section of the Bible, ketuvim (Writings) is debated; however, a majority of scholars believe its final canonization occurred in the second century C.E.” The Britannica similarly says “The Hebrew Bible probably reached its current form about the 2nd century CE.” A Professor of Jewish Studies, Lawrence H. Schiffman even goes as far as saying
“While virtually all the Writings were regarded as canonical by the time of the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., arguments continued regarding the status of Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Esther, and these disputes are attested in rabbinic literature. Second Temple literature indicates that a collection of Writings existed as early as the second century B.C.E. but was not regarded as formally closed.”
This shows quite clearly that as recently as 90 A.D., controversies on the Hebrew Canon were still swirling, and most likely continued on even after that. The argument that the Jews had a set canon before Christ was born is simply false.
2. Different groups of Jews believed in different canons of inspired books.
The agreement of a set Jewish canon at any date was rather fragmented. There were a few groups, each believing something different. The Sadducees believed that only the Torah was inspired. Hence, anything outside of that could be profitable, but was not truly God’s word. There were also the Greek-speaking Diaspora Jews who followed the Septuagint (Old Testament including the 7 disputed books). This is what Jesus Christ and the Apostles believed in (see point #3 below). Next, the Pharisees were the largest group of Jews. Their canon included the Torah, and other books, but excluded the 7 disputed ones. Interestingly enough, Christ knew this, and spoke to each group accordingly. He did not after all, ask the Sadducees why they failed to believe in the book of Jeremiah. Rather, he asks them about Moses. So even with certain parts of their canon closed, the Jews were not an agreeing people.
This leads into why Martin Luther even chose the “7 Books” argument in the first place. I believe it’s because the European Jews in the 1500s came from the Pharisees who were the largest group, and their Hebrew Bible was therefore the most common Hebrew Bible in Europe. In the interest of theological honesty, why did Luther not also consult the still extant Jews of the Diaspora, who still make up a large number and use the Septuagint even today?
3. The Apostles used the Septuagint
Another reason why the 7 disputed books belong in the Bible is because the Apostles as well as Christ Himself used the Septuagint. This is evidenced by literally hundreds of references in the New Testament. Compare Ephesians 6:13-17 and Wisdom 5:17-20, for example. In addition, as Catholic apologist Mark Shea writes,
“It's a strange irony that one of the favorite passages used in anti-Catholic polemics over the years is Mark 7:6-8. In this passage Christ condemns "teaching as doctrines human traditions." This verse has formed the basis for countless complaints against the Catholic Church for supposedly "adding" to Scripture man-made traditions, such as the "merely human works" of the deuterocanononical books. But few realize that in Mark 7:6-8 the Lord was quoting the version of Isaiah that is found only in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament.”
Furthermore, many in the early Church quoted from the disputed books, including The Didache (A.D. 70), Clement (A.D. 80), Polycarp (A.D.135), Iraneus (A.D. 190), and many others. It should be noted in fairness that Jerome himself rejected the 7 disputed books. However, he changed his position because it conflicted with the view of the Church. As Protestant patristics scholar J. N. D. Kelly wrote,
"For the great majority, however, the deutero-canonical writings ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense. Augustine, for example, whose influence in the West was decisive, made no distinction between them and the rest of the Old Testament . . . The same inclusive attitude to the Apocrypha was authoritatively displayed at the synods of Hippo and Carthage in 393 and 397 respectively, and also in the famous letter which Pope Innocent I dispatched to Exuperius, bishop of Toulouse, in 405" (Early Christian Doctrines, 55-56).
That Christ and the Apostles quoted the disputed books bring those books into serious consideration. Why after all, would the Jesus Christ and the Apostles make references to hundreds of verses in the Septuagint, if the 7 included books were frauds? That would call into question the whole Septuagint in the first place, and therefore Christ and His followers would have used the canon that the Pharisees used. If the 7 books were should not have been in the canon, it would also make sense that Our Lord would have warned the people He was teaching. Yet there was no warning given. In addition, if the complete Hebrew Bible truly was fixed at that time without the 7 books, why would Christ make so many references to the Septuagint? And finally, why did this issue finally arise so many centuries after the canon was chosen?
This all is causes a huge problem for Protestants. If one truly believes that the early Church made a mistake in compiling the books of the Bible, the whole list would be suspect. After all, if the compilers were not adequate enough to get those 7 books right, why should we trust them to get the gospels right? Who’s to say that the Gospel of Mark or Romans should be in the Bible, but the Gospel of Peter should not be? I’ve heard it said that we know that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John should be in the Bible because they all present the same message, and the message is the main thing we need to follow. Therefore whatever gospels differ with that message should not be included. This reasoning is faulty however, because though the 4 gospels present a common message, there isn’t any reason to believe in their authenticity over any others. There could be 4 other gospels all with the same message, but this does not mean they should be in the Bible.
Through the writings of historians, the differing accepted books of the Old Covenant Jews, and the fact that Christ and His apostles quoted more from the Septuagint than the Hebrew Canon that the Pharisees used, I believe that the 7 disputed books may safely be in the Old Testament. If one takes the opposite view, they’d be forced to believe in an Old Testament canon determined not by the Christians in the early Church, but by Jews who rejected Christ and His message.