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Which books belong in the Bible?

Who decided?

What about the “missing” books?

Why is the “Catholic” Bible different from ours?


Importance of this study

Have you ever wondered about how the Bible came to be? How were the books collected, arranged, and accepted? Why are some books rejected? Who decided if a book was genuine or a fake?

We are about to study matters that are not common in an adult Bible class. But these issues are of supreme importance. Do you hold in your hands the Word of God, all the Word of God? Are there books we are missing? Are there books in the Bible that should not be there? Who decided what was accepted or rejected? When was this done?

These questions are at the very heart of our faith in the Bible as the Word of God. We believe that the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament are the only inspired writings.

What about the other writings? What about the books in the Catholic Bible that are not in our Bible? Are they inspired of God? Why do the Catholics accept them and most others reject them?


Definition of terms

  1. Canon – A reed, measuring rod, standard by which something is measured, tested, the method of including or rejecting the books of the Bible

    1. Emery Bancroft, Elemental Theology, p. 20 – “By the canonicity of the Scriptures is meant that, according to certain and fixed standards, the books included in them are regarded as parts of a complete and divine revelation, which is therefore authoritative and binding in relation to both faith and practice.”

    2. Bancroft, p, 26 – “The books of the Old and New Testament as we have them today are shown to have been accepted very early by the church as comprising the complete revelation from God and as having been written by the human authors to whom they are accredited.”

    3. The origin is a Greek word “kanon” which is a reed or measuring rod. The Strong’s number is #2583, and it is used in Galatians 6:16 (“walk according to this rule”).


  2. Canonicity – The study of how the books of the Bible were chosen. The study of the standard by which other books were rejected.

  3. Apocrypha – The word means hidden, covered, or secret. These books never claimed to be inspired, but are accepted as genuine, not fraudulent. These 15 books were written during the inter-testament period.

  4. Pseudepigraphal – There were many books which claimed to be written by inspired men, but proven to be false. These fraudulent writings were created under false names ascribed as the author of a work. There are more than 200 written in the 2 centuries following the New Testament.

  5. Deuterocanonical – Even the Catholic Church refers to the apocryphal books as a “second canon”. They are not recognized as part of the primary canon of Scripture. These are books that meet a “second standard” in order to be accepted.

  6. Antilegomena – Some NT books were questioned, spoken against. Within a short time all the books spoken against were accepted.

    OT Canon – The generally accepted list of 39 books now acknowledged in the Old Testament.

    1. Josephus wrote, “For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradiction one another (as the Greeks have), but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all past times, which are justly believed to be divine.”

    2. The 22 books he mentions are the same as the 39 in our OT. Some books were compiled differently. For example, all the Minor Prophets were combined into one book, called the Book of the Twelve. Other books were combined. His list is the same as ours.

  7. NT Canon – The accepted list of 27 books in the New Testament. While various men listed them in different order, the list was the same.


Old Testament Guidelines


More than 40 different men wrote the Old Testament over a period of more than 2,000 years. Until time of Christ, copying books was expensive and very difficult. The scroll copies were highly treasured.

Jewish tradition tells us that Ezra gathered the Old Testament books together. The OT canon was settled by about 250 BC. Josephus (lived at the time of Christ) wrote that Ezra was concerned about the sacred books. Ezra was “the scribe” and as the children of Israel returned to Jerusalem and began to worship, he sought to gather the volumes that belong in the sacred library.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are also an important part of the history. They show that the canon was set between the testaments. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls are all the books of the OT except Esther. There are many scrolls with other writings, histories, and commentaries. The commentaries are only on the books that are in the canon. There are no commentaries on any of the other books.

All the church fathers accepted the canon that we have, with the exception of Augustine. Augustine accepted the apocrypha as well as the 39 books.

The general guidelines used were:

  1. The book must have been written, edited, or endorsed by a prophet.

  2. Christ and NT writers endorsed the Old Testament books.

  3. The NT quotes all but 7 of the OT books.

    1. Obadiah, Nahum, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah

    2. Some list only – Esther, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon


New Testament Guidelines

8 men wrote the New Testament within a 40-year period. The use of papyrus made the copy and distribution of writings much easier and faster. Other factors that helped with the compilation of the NT were – ease of travel, standard language (Greek), postal service, and dispersion of Christians.

The tests applied were:

  1. Must have written by an apostle; OR

  2. Endorsed by an apostle; OR

  3. Generally accepted by the early Christians; OR

  4. The author maintained close contact with one or more apostles

  5. It was held by early Christians that the providence of God was involved in protecting the genuine and rejecting the spurious.

Henry C. Theissen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 103 – “Let us remember that this non-interference of authority is a valuable topic of evidence to the genuineness of our Gospels; for it thus appears that is was owing to no adventitious authority, but by their own weight, they crushed all rivals out of existence.”

Several lists of NT books are found beginning about 120 AD. All these lists contain the same books (Hebrews, the only exception on some lists). There are no other books included on any of the lists.

Several councils in the 2nd and 3rd centuries agreed with this list. The only discussion was about the order of the books. The main disagreement was if the books should be arranged in chronological order OR in order of importance. Importance won and this is why Romans was placed first among the epistles. As for the gospels, John was considered the most important and placed last. Acts was the core, center, heart of the NT. John and Romans flanked this book as most important. There are more copies of these three books than the other NT books.

In the early years, some books were questioned. The “antilegomena” (meaning spoken against) included at various times a total of 7 books – Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. By the year 170 all these issues were settled and the books accepted. By 200 the order and list was in general use around the world.


The Apocrypha

The apocrypha means something hidden or covered. These books were written around 200 BC to 100 AD. The Roman Catholic Church accepts these Old Testament era books. These books are placed between Malachi and Matthew.

There are several reasons the Roman Catholic Church accepts these books. Among the reasons are:

  1. Historical in nature

  2. Seem to be accurate accounts

  3. Appear to be genuine

  4. Contain no major contradictions with the Bible

  5. They contain hints at purgatory and giving alms to atone for sin

The books in the Catholic Bible are:

1 Esdras

2 Esdras


Esther 10:4 – 16:24

Wisdom of Solomon



Daniel 3:24-90, 13-14

Prayer of Manasseh

1 Maccabees

2 Maccabees

Letter of Jeremiah




The non-canonical books have many problems within themselves. They do have historical information that is of value to the inter-testament period.


Reasons for Rejecting the Apocrypha

H. S. Miller, in his book, General Biblical Introduction, lists a number of reasons these books were rejected.

  1. It is understood by almost everyone that they never appeared in the Hebrew canon. The Jews never recognized them as part of Scripture.

  2. Neither Christ, the apostles, nor any other writer, quoted from them or referred to them in the NT.

  3. Josephus rejected them.

  4. Philo, a Jewish philosopher from Alexandria wrote much about the Old Testament. He quoted from much of the OT but never quoted, or even mentioned any of the apocryphal books.

  5. The apocryphal books are not included in any list of OT books within the first four centuries AD.

  6. Jerome (347-419) stood solidly for the Hebrew canon and opposed the apocrypha.

  7. The books contain some absurdities.

  8. They contain some errors in geography and history.

  9. Inspiration is not claimed by any of the authors.

  10. The books were not held as canonical until the Council of Trent in 1546 added them to the canon and condemned anyone who disagreed.

  11. They contain no doctrine or prophecy.

  12. Most of these books do not mention God.

There is one brief mention of someone praying for their dead relative that their sins would be forgiven. This is the basis for the doctrine of “purgatory.” There is also a reference to giving alms to atone for sin.

While these books are not inspired, we must recognize their historical value. They help us understand the times, the struggles of the Jews, and the changes that we see in place in the NT.


The Pseudepigrapha

This group of writings differs from the apocrypha in several ways.

  1. These books “claimed” inspiration.

  2. They were written under false names, claiming to be from Peter, Barnabas, Enoch, Thomas, Isaiah, and many others.

  3. They are clearly not inspired. It is easy to tell the difference by a casual reading.

These books are clearly not inspired. They were created out of an atmosphere of – people looking for anything to hang on to, venerate, worship. Relics (bones, piece of cloth, ring, or other object which was claimed to have belonged to some apostle or Christ) were everywhere. There were more bones of Peter than could have belonged to several humans. The “Shroud of Turin” is one of these remaining relics.

It seems that Christians of the 2nd and 3rd centuries were grasping at anything they could grab that had some connection with the 1st century. Into this environment came the fakers, cons, and frauds.


The 39 OT books and the 27 NT books are the only writings Christians consider fully inspired. The books that are in our present OT were accepted by 200 BC. The books in our NT were accepted as authoritative from the very beginning.

We have the Word of God. Our task is to read it, study it, and obey it.

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