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The Canon of the Scriptures

Most Bibles that are available in North America today are based on the Jewish Masoretic text and omit the Deutero-canonical books. The historical reasons for this appear almost accidental, and most English-speaking Christians are unaware of them.

The Protestant Reformers’ emphasis on original languages (coming out of their Renaissance heritage) led most of the Reformers to insist on using the Old Testament canon available to them in Hebrew, which had become standard among the Jews (the Masoretic text). During the late Middle Ages, the Germans and Englishmen who began to translate the Bible into “the language of the people” were ignorant of the importance of the LXX (or in some cases even completely ignorant of its existence). They assumed that the Hebrew Masoretic text used by the European Jews of their day was more authentic than the Latin Vulgate, which in their mind was tainted by its association with the Latin Church based in Rome.

Although modern English translations of the Old Testament take into consideration the LXX and other text traditions, they have continued to rely principally on the Masoretic tradition. This has led to the sometimes embarrassing situation of an English Bible in which the New Testament quotations of the Old Testament are very different from the supposed “original” found in the Old Testament translation included in the same Bible.

For example, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible has Paul quoting Isaiah as saying, “He who believes in him [Messiah] will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:33). The footnote in the New Oxford Annotated edition of the NRSV refers the reader to Isaiah 28:16, which reads only, “One who trusts will not panic.”

Just as the Protestant acceptance of the Masoretic text of the Old Testament had little to do with theology, the Protestant omission of the Deuterocanonical books from the Old Testament has very little to do with theology, although in the past hundred years or so it has taken on theological significance among many Protestant groups.

Until the mid-nineteenth century, most Protestants accepted the Deuterocanonical books as inspired in at least some limited sense. For example, the original version of the King James Bible, the most popular version of the Bible in English, included most of the Deuterocanonical books. And for many years in England, it was even illegal to publish a Bible without these books.

They continued to be included in almost all Protestant versions of the Bible until the missionary movement of the first part of the nineteenth century. In order to save on shipping costs, missionary Bible societies began publishing partial Bibles (New Testaments, Gospels, etc.). Converts and religious movements that were born out of this missionary movement came to believe that the thirty-nine books in the truncated, missionary-society–produced Old Testaments were the only “true” books of the Old Testament.

Most evangelical Protestants in America are heirs of this missionary movement. Consequently, many Americans who take the Bible seriously hold a grave misunderstanding about the Old Testament. They sincerely but mistakenly believe that the Deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament are not a part of the Christian Bible. They are ignorant of the fact that most of the Deutero-canonical books are quoted or alluded to as Scripture by the Apostles, the Church Fathers, and even Jesus Christ Himself.

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