The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha

Part 2: From the Beginning of the Church Age to Jerome

William Webster


The Bible of the majority of the early Church was the Greek Septuagint. Even the Old Latin version used by the Western Church was a translation of the Septuagint. As we have seen, it is probable it included additions to the books of the Hebrew Old Testament which were not received as canonical by the Jews. Some of the fathers, especially those in the West, generally accepted these works because it was assumed they were part of the legitimate canonical corpus. It is clear from the writings of the Church fathers that there was much confusion over what the true Hebrew canon was. The East and West generally held different perspectives. When the Septuagint version was appropriated by the Church, the manuscripts were not differentiated from one another so that the copies of the canonical books were interspersed indiscriminately with those of the Apocrypha. With the vast majority of Church fathers having no contact with Jews they simply assumed that all the books of the Septuagint were part of the original Hebrew canon, especially since many of them considered the Septuagint to be inspired. Bruce Metzger gives the following background on the reception of the Septuagint by the early Christian community:

The Early Christian Church, which began within the bosom of Palestinian Judaism, received her first Scriptures (the Books of the Old Testament) from the Jewish Synagogue. Since, however, the Gentile converts to Christianity could not read Hebrew, the Greek translation of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint), which many Jews had also come to use, was widely employed by the Church. Because of the antagonism which developed between the Synagogue and the Church, the Jews abandoned the use of the Greek Septuagint, and this circulated henceforth solely among the Christians. Almost the only manuscript copies of the Septuagint which have come down to us today were written by Christian scribes…The copies of the Septuagint contain a dozen or more other books interspersed among the books of the Hebrew canon. Most of these are identical with the traditional Apocrypha… It should be understood that these various books stand in the copies of the Septuagint with no indication that they are not included in the Hebrew canon…The question remains, however, how such books came to stand so closely associated with the canonical books as they do in the manuscripts of the Septuagint. In attempting to find at least a partial answer to this problem, it should not be overlooked that the change in the production of manuscripts from the scroll form to the codex or leaf-form must have had an important part to play in the ascription of authority to certain books on the periphery of the canon. The fact that there was a controversy in Talmudic times whether it was legitimate to include the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings all in a single scroll, indicates that the prevailing custom among the Jews was the production of separate volumes for each part of the Hebrew Bible. Some Rabbis went so far as to insist that each book of Scripture must form a separate volume. The recent discovery of several scrolls in caves by the Dead Sea, each containing, a copy of a single Biblical book, attests to the prevalence of this feeling among the Jews.
+++When the codex or leaf-form of book production was adopted, however, it became possible for the first time to include a great number of separate books within the same two covers. From all of the recently accumulating evidence from the papyri, it appears that it was the early Christians who changed from scrolls to codices as the format for their sacred books, perhaps in direct opposition to the usage of scrolls in the Synagogue. For whatever reason the change was instituted, it now became possible for canonical and Apocryphal books to be brought into close physical juxtaposition. Books which heretofore had never been regarded by the Jews as having any more than a certain edifying significance were now placed by Christian scribes in one codex side by side with the acknowledged books of the Hebrew canon. Thus it would happen that what was first a matter of convenience in making such books of secondary status available among Christians became a factor in giving the impression that all of the books within such a codex were to be regarded as authoritative. Furthermore, as the number of Gentile Christians grew, almost none of whom had exact knowledge of the extent of the original Hebrew canon, it became more and more natural for quotations to be made indiscriminately from all the books included within the one Greek codex.58

The Septuagint version received by the Church was, in the main, true to the Hebrew text but nonetheless contained many errors. Jerome, in particular, pointed out the discrepancies and the need for an accurate translation of the Hebrew to Latin. Just as the fathers were sometimes misled in their exegesis of Scripture because of the faulty Septuagint text, some were also misled by the addition of the Apocryphal books to the Septuagint manuscripts. All we can say with respect to their practice is that where they deviated from the canon of Jesus and the Jews they were in error. Some Roman Catholics, of course, vigorously object. Roman Catholics readily admit that based on the canon decreed by the North African Councils of Hippo and Carthage, fathers such as Athanasius and Cyril of Jerusalem, who did not agree with the North African canon, were mistaken and in error. We agree that the fathers could err with respect to the canon, but our standard is not Hippo and Carthage but the Hebrew Canon which represents the ‘oracles of God’ (Rom. 3:2). The differences between the Western North African Church and the Eastern fathers, Athanasius and Cyril, underscore the general reality that existed in the Church of the patristic age, that there were significant differences between the fathers of the East and West on the extent of the Old Testament canon.

The Eastern Church

The Eastern Church tended to be more conservative in her approach to the canon of the Old Testament in large part because she benefited from fathers who lived near Palestine and had contact with the Jews. The earliest Christian list of the Old Testament canon was that of Melito of Sardis in the mid-second century. He went to Palestine to determine the precise number of canonical Old Testament books. The number he gave was twenty-two, the same as Josephus, though he omitted the book of Esther:

Melito, to his brother Onesimus, greeting: Since thou hast often, in thy zeal for the word, expressed a wish to have extracts made from the Law and the Prophets concerning the Saviour, and concerning our entire faith, and hast also desired to have an accurate statement of the ancient book, as regards their number and their order, I have endeavored to perform the task, knowing thy zeal for the faith, and thy desire to gain information in regard to the word, and knowing that thou in thy yearning after God, esteemeth these things above all else, struggling to attain eternal salvation. Accordingly when I came East and came to the place where these things were preached and done, I learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, and send them to thee as written below. Their names are as follows: Of Moses, five books: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy; Jesus Nave, Judges, Ruth; of Kings, four books; of Chronicles, two; the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon, Wisdom also, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job; of Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah; of the twelve prophets, one book; Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras.59

He most likely received this list from the Christian Church near Palestine so his canon reflected a Christian perspective and a consciousness of the Hebrew numeration and canon. It clearly does not include the Apocrypha. Some have been confused by Melito’s reference to Wisdom, believing it to be the Apocryphal book, the Wisdom of Solomon. But, as F.F. Bruce points out, this was another way of referring to the book of Proverbs:

None of the writings of the ‘Septuagintal plus’ is listed: the ‘Wisdom’ included is not the Greek book of Wisdom but an alternative name for proverbs. According to Eusebius, Hegessipus and Irenaeus and many other writers of their day called the Proverbs of Solomon ‘the all-virtuous Wisdom.’60

Origen was the greatest biblical scholar of the early patristic age who had direct contact with the Jews. Eusebius preserved the catalogue of Jewish canonical books which Origen says he received from them:

It should be stated that the canonical books, as the Hebrews have handed them down, are twenty-two…The twenty-two books of the Hebrews are the following: Genesis…Exodus…Leviticus…Numbers…Deuteronomy…Jesus, the son of Nave…Judges and Ruth…the first and second of Kings…the third and fourth of Kings…the Chronicles, the First and the Second in one…Esdras, First and Second in one…the book of Psalms…the Proverbs of Solomon…Ecclesiastes.. the Song of Songs…Isaiah…Jeremiah, with Lamentations and the epistle in one…Daniel…Ezekiel…Job…Esther. And besides these there are the Maccabees…61

Origen’s list corresponds substantially with that of Josephus and includes Esther. The book of the minor prophets is missing but this was either an oversight on Origen’s part or a copyist’s error. He set Maccabees apart from the canonical Scriptures. One area of divergence from the truly canonical list of the Jews is that he included the Epistle of Jeremiah with the canonical book of the prophet Jeremiah. This the Jews did not do. Origen simply asserted his own opinion, believing that the epistle should be appended to Jeremiah. He also included the Apocryphal book of 1 Esdras along with 2 Esdras as one book yet only 2 Esdras was recognized as canonical by the Jews. It should be noted that in the above quotation from Eusebius, Origen specifically relates the bounds of the Jewish canon. This does not mean that he personally agreed with it or adhered to it. He personally accepted the Septuagint and the Apocryphal additions which it contained. This is clear from his letter to Julius Africanus.62

Julius had written him, questioning the wisdom of Origen’s quoting from the work, The History of Susanna, as if it were a legitimate part of the book of Daniel. He was also critical of the other additions to Daniel: Bel and the Dragon and the The Song of the Three Youths. Origen responded saying that although the Jews rejected these works, he believed them legitimate because they were used in the Churches. Furthermore, he wrote that just because there were many variations between the Hebrew text and the Septuagint, that did not mean that the Church must give up the Septuagint. It was peculiarly the Church’s Bible. By this time, the Jews had completely forsaken the Septuagint for Aquila’s Greek translation. Throughout his letter, Origen contrasted what he called their Scripture (the Jews) and ours (the Christians). Origen believed that the Septuagint was the Scripture received by the Church and where a variation existed between the Hebrew and the Septuagint, the Septuagint took precedence because it was the Scripture of the Church. He believed that the Septuagint had been given providentially to the Church by God. In dealing with the Jews, he limited himself to the Hebrew Scriptures, knowing they would not accept arguments taken from books considered to be outside the bounds of their canon. However, he was unwilling to give up those books he felt were a part of the Septuagint and used in the Churches, though not found in the Hebrew Scriptures.

It is clear that Origen held the Septuagint in high regard and felt that a number of the books of the Apocrypha were part of the revelation given by God. He believed the Septuagint to be inspired. Obviously, he was mistaken. Even the Roman Catholic Church admits this. The evidence for this is seen in the fact that the official Roman Catholic Bible is the Latin Vulgate produced by Jerome which underscored the errors in the Septuagint text and was based on a translation from the Hebrew. Rome has officially repudiated the Septuagint. So, the veneration of the early Church fathers (such as Origen) for the Septuagint and certain of the Apocryphal books, and belief in their inspiration, was misguided.

Prior to Origen, Clement of Alexandria not only cited a number of the Apocryphal books as Scripture, specifically Wisdom, Tobit and Ecclesiasticus, but also certain pseudepigraphal works as well. Beckwith documents his use of these works:

At the turn of the second and third centuries, Clement of Alexandria includes in his Selections from the Prophets 2.1; 53.4, the two passages 1 En. 19.3 and 7.1-8.3; quotes 2 Esdras (4 Ezra) 5.35 as ‘Esdras the prophet’ (Stromata 3.16, or 3.100.3); quotes the lost Apocalypse of Zephaniah as ‘Zephaniah the prophet’ (Stromata 5.11 or 5.77.2) and what may be the lost Apocalypse of Elias as ‘Scripture’ (Exhortation 10.94.4); and makes a number of other references to such books, including two to the Assumption of Moses…63

The major Eastern fathers who followed Clement and Origen were actually more conservative in their opinion as to what constituted the Old Testament canon. For example, Cyril of Jerusalem in the mid fourth century, gave a complete catalogue of the canonical Old Testament books received by the Church of his day in his Catechetical Lectures. As pointed out previously, he mentioned the Jewish numeration of twenty-two books and gave a list of the specific books which comprise the canon.64 There are a number of important facts to note in Cyril’s comments. First of all, he states that this listing is the authoritative canon which was handed down by the Church. Secondly, he states that the canon he gave came from the Septuagint, but it excluded most of the books of the Apocrypha. The only Apocryphal books he listed were those of Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah which he mistakenly thought to have been part of the original canonical Jeremiah. It is probably true to say that he also included the additions to the prophet Daniel of Bel and the Dragon, The Song of the Three Children and Susanna since these were commonly associated with Daniel. He does not mention them but he does quote from them in his Catechetical Lectures.

Athanasius of Alexandria also gave a list of the Old Testament canon. Like Cyril he listed the number of books at twenty-two and citeed their identity. He mentions that the books he listed were those that had been handed down by tradition in the Church.65 Athanasius made some very significant statements in his comments. He gave the same canon as Cyril of Jerusalem but he omitted Esther. He likewise included Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah as additions to canonical Jeremiah and would most likely have included the additions to the book of Daniel. He said that these alone, along with the New Testament canon which he also catalogued, were the divinely inspired Scriptures from which the Church was to draw her doctrine of salvation. He went so far as to say that no man was to add to these books and was careful to distinguish between those that were truly authoritative and canonical and those that were useful for reading purposes only. He listed a number of Apocryphal books in this latter category as well as Esther.
Roman Catholic apologists are inconsistent in their appeal to the authority of the Church as it relates to the subject of the canon. It was pointed out that Joe Gallegos exalted the authority of the Church by appealing to Cyril of Jerusalem and Athanasius in a general sense where they stated that they had received the canon from the Church. Yet Gallegos rejects the very canon Cyril and Athanasius espoused. He speaks in general terms about the authority of the Church but uses illustrations that are self contradictory, as evidenced from the following statements on Cyril, Athanasius and Pope Damasus:

It was the Church who decided which books were and were not included in the canon of Scripture…Cyril of Jerusalem discusses where one finds the authentic canon of the Bible in his lectures on the faith: ‘Learn also diligently, and from the Church, what are the books of the Old Testament, and what those of the New.’ Likewise, Athanasius hands down the canon as given to him by the Church and her fathers in the faith…Pope Damasus and the Council of Rome in the fourth century accept only the canon which was received by the Catholic Church: ‘Likewise it has been said: Now indeed we must treat of the divine Scriptures, what the universal Catholic Church accepts and what she ought to shun.’66

The implication of these statements, of course, is that just as these fathers submitted to the authority of the Church so believers today must submit to the authority of Rome as represented by Damasus and the Council of Rome. He leads the reader to believe that Cyril, Athanasius and Damasus all agreed with one another. However, they did not agree. Gallegos fails to give the full quotes from Cyril, Athanasius and the Council of Rome in their entirety. He quotes them out of context, purposefully omitting the canons that they listed. The full quotes of Cyril and Athanasius are cited above and the books which they claimed were handed down by the Church. The Old Testament canon cited by Damasus and the Council of Rome is as follows:

The order of the Old Testament begins here: Genesis one book, Exodus one book, Leviticus one book, Numbers one book, Deuteronomy one book, Josue Nave one book, Judges one book, Ruth one book, Kings four books, Paralipomenon two books, Psalms one book, Solomon three books, Proverbs one book, Ecclesiastes one book, Canticle of Canticles one book, likewise Wisdom one book, Ecclesiasticus one book.

Likewise the order of the writings of the Prophets. Isaias one book, Jeremias one book, with Ginoth, that is, with his lamentations, Ezechiel one book, Daniel one book, Osee one book, Micheas one book, Joel one book, Abdias one book, Jonas one book, Nahum one book, Habucuc one book, Sophonias one book, Aggeus one book, Zacharias one book, Malachias one book.

Likewise the order of the histories. Job one book, Tobias one book, Esdras two books, Esther one book, Judith one book, Machabees two books.67

Note that the canon given by the Council of Rome differs from that given by Athanasius and Cyril. Both fathers stated that the Church handed down a canon that rejected the major books of the Apocrypha. The Council of Rome and Damasus, on the other hand, taught that the canon handed down to them included the Apocrypha. Gallegos admonishes us to look to the Church as an authority for our canon. Which Church? He leaves his readers with the impression that he agrees with Cyril and Athanasius, but his appeal to Athanasius and Cyril is meaningless because he rejects the canon they believed was authoritatively handed down to them by the Church. In addition, it is obvious from Cyril and Athanasius that, contrary to the statements of the Council of Rome, the canon it listed was not universally received by the Church. This is clear too from the teaching of other Eastern fathers such as Gregory of Nazianzus,68 Basil the Great,69 Epiphanius70 and Amphilochius.71 Each of these fathers listed the canon as consisting of twenty-two books in which the major books of the Apocrypha are excluded. It should be noted though, that following the Septuagint, many included Septuagint 1 Esdras with Ezra-Nehemiah, the Epistle of Jeremiah and Baruch with Jeremiah and Bel and the Dragon, The Song of the Three Children and Susanna as additions to the book of Daniel. Thus, the canon most reflective of the Eastern Church is the one expressed by Athanasius and Cyril of Jerusalem. Swete explains the position of the Eastern Church with these words:

The next list comes from Origen. It belongs to his commentary on the first Psalm, which was written at Alexandria, i.e. before A.D. 231. The books included in it are expressly said to be the twenty-two of the Hebrew canon…Yet among them are the first book of Esdras and the Epistle of Jeremiah, which the Jews never recognised. With the addition of Baruch, Origen’s list is repeated by Athanasius, Cyril, Epiphanius, and in the Laodicean canon; Amphilochius mentions two books of Esdras, and it is at least possible that the Esdras of Gregory of Nazianzus is intended to include both books, and that the Epistle, or Baruch and the Epistle, are to be understood as forming part of Jeremiah in the lists both of Gregory and Amphilochius. Thus it appears that an expansion of the Hebrew canon, which involved no addition to the number of the books, was predominant in the East during the fourth century. The Eastern lists contain other books, but they are definitely placed outside the Canon. This practice seems to have begun with Origen, who after enumerating the twenty-two books adds, ‘and besides these there are the Maccabees’. Athanasius takes up the expression, but names other books-the two Wisdoms, Esther, Judith, and Tobit. Palestine was perhaps naturally conservative in this matter; Cyril will not allow his catechumens to go beyond the Canon, and Epiphanius mentions only, and that with some hesitation, the two books of Wisdom…And this was the prevalent attitude of the East even at a later time.72

J.N.D. Kelly confirms this:

The view which now commanded itself fairly generally in the Eastern church, as represented by Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus and Epiphanius was that the deutero-canonical books should be relegated to a subordinate position outside the canon proper.73

The Western Church

In the West, especially in the North African Church, there was a tendency to accept a much broader canon than that which was espoused in the East. As Kelly writes:

The West, as a whole was inclined to form a much more favorable estimate of the Apocrypha.74

In the mid to late secondary century AD, the Scripture of the Western Church was the Old Latin. This was a translation of the Greek Septuagint which included many of the Apocryphal books. Thus, the Western fathers, most of whom were ignorant of Hebrew and had no contact with the Jews, accepted uncritically the additions to the Hebrew canon, mistakenly thinking they had originally been part of it. F.F. Bruce writes:

Until Jerome produced a new translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew text at the end of the fourth century, the Latin Old Testament was a rendering of the Septuagint, including the ‘Septugintal plus.’ There was little if anything to indicate to readers of the Old Latin version that the ‘Septuagintal plus’ stood on a different footing from the rest of the Old Testament.75

Swete gives the following documentation of the Apocryphal books found in the extant Old Latin manuscripts:

Codex B y A contain the two Wisdoms, Tobit, and Judith; 1-2 Maccabees are added in y, and 1-4 Maccabees in A; cod. C exhibits the two Wisdoms and when complete may have contained other books of the same class.76

We find references to the Apocrypha beginning with first epistle of Clement of Rome in the first century. He alluded to the book of Wisdom and quoted the book of Judith although he did not cite them as Scripture. The Didache cited Ecclesiasticus and Cyprian also made numerous references to it. Irenaeus quoted from Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom and Susanna, while Tertullian quoted from Wisdom, I Maccabees and Judith. But he also quoted from 1 Enoch, citing it as Scripture.77 Ambrose referenced a large number of the Apocrypha including 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon and 1 and 2 Maccabees. However, not all Western fathers accepted this broad view of the canon. Hilary of Poitiers held to the traditional Jewish numeration of twenty-two books, although he appended the Epistle of Jeremiah to Jeremiah. He wrote that the numeration and contents of the canon was given by an ancient tradition of the fathers:

The law of the Old Testament is reckoned in twenty-two books, that they might fit the number of Hebrew letters. They are counted according to the tradition of the ancient fathers, so that those of Moses are five books; the sixth of Joshua; the seventh of Judges and Ruth; the eighth of the first and second of Kings; the tenth of the two books called the Chronicles; the eleventh of Ezra, (wherein Nehemiah was comprehended:) the book of Psalms made the twelfth; the Proverbs of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, made the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth; the twelve prophets made the sixteenth; then Isaiah, and Jeremy, together with his Lamentations and his Epistle, (now the twenty-ninth chapter of his prophecy) Daniel, and Ezekiel, and Job, and Esther, made up the full number of twenty-two books.78

The distinction that Athanasius made between the canonical Scriptures and other writings which were not canonical, but nonetheless used for edification in the Church, was further expressed by Rufinus at the beginning of the fifth century. He was greatly influenced by Origen and likewise listed the canonical books according to the Jewish numbering. He claimed that the canon he gave was that which had been handed down by tradition through the fathers as authoritative and that the specific books he enumerated were alone to be used for establishing the doctrines of the faith.79 He cited the major works of the Apocrypha, specifically the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Judith, and the Maccabees as books that were not canonical but ecclesiastical. These were appropriate to be read in the Churches but were not authoritative for the confirmation of doctrine. Such, says Rufinus, was the tradition handed down from the fathers. Significantly, Rufinus expressed this view after the Councils of Hippo and Carthage, demonstrating that they did not possess universal authority for the Church at large.

A similar perspective to Rufinus was held by Jerome. He and Origen are the only fathers considered to be true biblical scholars in the early Church, and Jerome, alone among all the fathers, is considered to be a Hebrew scholar. Given the many errors in translation found in the Septuagint, Jerome undertook to provide a fresh translation directly from the Hebrew for the Latin Church. He received a great deal of criticism because many felt, in undertaking this translation, he was casting aspersion upon the Septuagint which they considered inspired. His translation became known as the Latin Vulgate and became the standard Bible translation used by the Western Church throughout the medieval ages and the post-Tridentine Roman Catholic Church. Jerome lived in Palestine and consulted with the Jews. As a result he refused to translate the Apocrypha because the books were not part of the Hebrew canon. His position was that of Rufinus and Athanasius. He made it clear that the Church of his day did not grant canonical status to the writings of the Apocrypha as being inspired. While commenting on the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus, Jerome made these statements about the books of Judith, Tobit and Maccabees:

As, then, the Church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures, so let it also read these two Volumes (Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus) for the edification of the people, not to give authority to doctrines of the Church (emphasis mine).80

Jerome’s convictions about the canon were clearly expressed in numerous places in his writings, in particular, the Prefaces he wrote to the Old Testament books. In these he enumerated the canonical books according to the Hebrew canon, thus rejecting the Apocrypha.81

Some have suggested that Jerome later changed his opinion and included the Apocrypha in the canon of the Vulgate. However, there is no evidence to support this. Jerome continued to write commentaries on the Old Testament books until his death. There is no record that he ever retracted his original statements about the Apocrypha. In his work, Against Rufinus, written in AD 401-402, he reiterated and defended his earlier position on the Apocrypha. Again, his comments come after the North African councils. Though he did not consider the Apocryphal books to be canonical in the strict sense, Jerome quoted from them in accordance with his own convictions, for the purposes of edification. Again, this is the same distinction drawn (between canonical and ecclesiastical books) by Athanasius and Rufinus. As we will see, Jerome’s views had enormous influence on the Church of subsequent ages even down to our own time.

It would appear, then, that certain elements of the Church held differing views of canonicity, one broad, the other narrow. The broad view included both the canonical and ecclesiastical books under the general title of books received by the Church-canonical in the general sense in that it was permissible for all to be read in the Church. The narrow view limited canonicity only to the twenty-two books of the Old Testament. The Apocryphal books and certain books written during the Church age, such as 1 Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas, were classed under the general designation of ecclesiastical.

At the same time that Jerome was engaged in his translation work and writing his prefaces, the North African Councils of Hippo and Carthage met in AD 393 and 397 respectively and issued a decree on the canon which included the works of the Apocrypha. We do not possess the original decrees of Hippo and Carthage but they were later ratified by a subsequent Council in Carthage in AD 419. The decree on the Old Testament reads as follows:

Besides the canonical Scriptures, nothing shall be read, in the church, under the title of ‘divine writings.’ The canonical books are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, the four books of Kings, the two books of Paraleipomena (Chronicles), Job, the Psalms of David, the five books of Solomon, the twelve books of the (Minor) Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobias, Judith, Esther, the two books of Esdras, two books of the Maccabees.82

This decree ends with the statement that it was to be submitted to the Bishop of Rome, as well as other bishops of the Western Church for confirmation. It affirms the fact that the books listed are those which have received the sanction of the fathers of the North African churches to be read in the Church:

Let this be sent to our brother and fellow bishop, Boniface, and to the other bishops of those parts, that they may confirm this canon, for these are the things which we have received from our fathers to be read in the church.83

The decrees were submitted to the Roman Church for confirmation which was forthcoming. It is the common teaching among Roman Catholic apologists that these Councils officially settled the canon for the Church at large. The facts, however, do not support this contention for two major reasons. The first is the nature of the North African Councils and the books they decreed to be canonical. The second is the history and practice of the Church with respect to the Apocrypha subsequent to these Councils and up to the time of the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century.

Augustine and the North African Councils

The first point to note regarding the Councils of Hippo and Carthage is that they were provincial Councils which had no authority to rule on the canon for the Church as a whole. Augustine, who was the guiding spirit of these Councils, admitted as much:

Now, in regard to the canonical Scriptures, he must follow the judgment of the greater number of catholic churches; and among these, of course, a high place must be given to such as have been thought worthy to be the seat of an apostle and to receive epistles. Accordingly, among the canonical Scriptures he will judge according to the following standard: to prefer those that are received by all the catholic churches to those which some do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority. If, however, he shall find that some books are held by the greater number of churches, and others by the churches of greater authority (though this is not a very likely thing to happen), I think that in such a case the authority on the two sides is to be looked upon as equal.84

Augustine acknowledged the lack of unanimity in the Churches regarding the canon and gave advice on how to determine which books were truly canonical. In effect he said one was to follow the judgment of the majority of churches. So, if it could be shown that some of the books sanctioned by Hippo and Carthage were not accepted as canonical by the majority of Churches then the North African Churches must yield on this point. Obviously, then, in promulgating the decree on the canon, Hippo and Carthage were not laying down a law for the universal Church but expressing the opinion and practice of their particular region. Since the Bible used by the North African Church was the Old Latin, a translation of the Septuagint which included a number of the books of the Apocrypha, these Councils were simply confirming the traditional canon for the North African Church based on the Septuagint. Philip Schaff confirms the fact that the North African Church followed the Septuagint:

Augustine…firmly followed the Alexandrian canon of the Septuagint, and the preponderant tradition in reference to the disputed Catholic Epistles and the Revelation…85

The veneration which this Church held for the Septuagint, based on implicit belief in its inspiration, is well represented by Augustine. He believed the myth of the seventy-two Jewish translators who, under Ptolmey, were individually placed in isolation and rendered the same translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.86 The adherence by Augustine and the North African Church to the Septuagint has some significant implications for the whole question of the establishment of the canon. Again, Roman Catholic apologists argue that the canon was authoritatively settled for the universal Church at the Councils of Hippo and Carthage. However, the canon decreed by the North African Councils differed from that decreed by the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century on one important point. Hippo and Carthage stated that 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras were canonical, referring to the Septuagint version of 1 and 2 Esdras, the Bible their Latin version was based upon. In that version, 1 Esdras was the apocryphal additions to Ezra and Nehemiah not found in the Hebrew Bible, while 2 Esdras was the canonical Jewish version of Ezra-Nehemiah. The Jews only acknowledged Ezra and Nehemiah which they combined into one book. This was 2 Esdras in the Septuagint version. It was Jerome (in his Latin Vulgate) who separated Ezra and Nehemiah into two books, calling them 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras respectively. This became standard for the Vulgate and the basis upon which Trent declared the Septuagint I Esdras to be noncanonical. 1 Esdras in the Septuagint then became 3 Esdras in the Vulgate and the other Apocryphal apocalyptic work of 3 Esdras became 4 Esdras in the Vulgate. In the earliest Septuagint manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus (early 4th century) and Codex Alexandrinus (early 5th century), I Esdras is listed as one book and Ezra-Nehemiah is listed separately as a second book. The New Catholic Encyclopedia confirms these facts:

Four books are attributed to Esdras (Ezra in the Hebrew spelling). The distinction between these books is confusing because of the manuscript and denominational differences:

 Vulgate (Catholic)  Septuagint   Hebrew Text  Protestant and Jewish
 1 Esdras (Ezra) *  Ezra *   Ezra *
 2 Esdras (Nehemiah) *  2 Esdras (Ezra/Nehemiah) *  Nehemiah *   Nehemiah *
 3 Esdras  1 Esdras  missing   1 Esdras
 4 Esdras  3 Esdras  missing   2 Esdras
 * Canonical Books

III Esdras (I Esdras in the Septuagint) was certainly compiled before A.D. 90, for the Jewish historian Josephus quoted from it (Ant. 11); but its exclusive concern with Jewish interests puts its composition before the Christian era, closer to 100 B.C. Until the 5th century, Christians very frequently ranked 3 Esdras with the Canonical books; it is found in many LXX MSS (Septuagint manuscripts) and in the Latin Vulgate (Vulg) of St. Jerome. Protestants therefore include 3 Esdras with other apocrypha (deuterocanonical) books such as Tobit or Judith. The Council of Trent definitively removed it from the canon.87

Ryle gives the following history of the differences in the books of Esdras as represented in the Septuagint and the Vulgate:

In the lists of the Old Testament which include the Apocryphal books, an element of confusion is caused by the Apocryphal ‘Ezra,’ our First Book of Esdras. In the LXX Version, the Old Latin, and the Syriac, this Apocryphal Greek Book was placed, out of regard probably for chronology, before the Hebrew Ezra, and was called the First of Ezra…while our Ezra and Nehemiah appeared as one book, with the title of the Second of Ezra. In his translation of the Vulgate, Jerome did not recognize the Canonicity of the Apocryphal Books. He translated the Hebrew Ezra (our Ezra and Nehemiah) as one book with the title of Ezra; but he acquiesced in the division of the Canonical Ezra into two books, for he speaks of the Apocryphal books as the third and fourth of Ezra…In the Vulgate, accordingly, Ezra and Nehemiah were called the First and Second of Ezra; the Apocryphal Greek Ezra was called the Third of Ezra; the Apocalyptic work, the Fourth of Ezra…The influence of the Vulgate caused the names applied in the books in that version to be generally adopted in the West. At the Council of Trent, Ezra and Nehemiah are called ‘the first book of Ezra and the second of Ezra which is called Nehemiah.’88

These references make it clear that the Septuagint version of 1 and 2 Esdras was different from the one decreed by Trent. The New Catholic Encyclopedia (quoted above) states that for the first five centuries many fathers of the Church regarded 1 Esdras of the Septuagint to be canonical because they followed the Septuagint. Jerome was the first to separate Ezra and Nehemiah into separate books and to assign the title of I Esdras to Ezra and 2 Esdras to Nehemiah in order to conform to the Hebrew canon. The Septuagint version of 1 Esdras is quoted, for example, by Justin Martyr, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ephrem Syrus, Basil the Great, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Ambrose, Theophilus of Antioch, Dionysius of Alexandria, Augustine and Prosper of Aquaitaine.89 Augustine quoted from the book of III Esdras (I Esdras in the Septuagint) in his work The City of God.90 Thus, when the Council of Carthage gave its list of canonical books for the Old Testament it followed the Septuagint translation. In referring to Esdras as comprising two books they were referring to I and II Esdras of the Septuagint. And when Carthage sent these decrees to Rome for confirmation, it was these books which were confirmed as canonical. Innocent I affirmed this in his letter to Exuperius91 and they were later included in the decrees of Popes Gelasius and Hormisdas. B.F. Westcott confirms these facts:

The enlarged canon of Augustine, which was, as it will be seen, wholly unsupported by any Greek authority, was adopted at the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397?), though with a reservation (Can. 47, De confirmando ist Canone transmarine ecclesia consulatur), and afterwards published in the decretals which bear the name of Innocent, Damasus, and Gelasius…and it recurs in many later writers.92

This contradicts the decree passed by Trent which followed Jerome in assigning I and II Esdras to the canonical Hebrew books of Ezra and Nehemiah respectively. Therefore, Trent declared uncanonical what the Council of Carthage and the bishops of Rome, in the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries, declared to be canonical. Clearly, then, Carthage did not authoritatively establish the canon for the Church universally. The claims of Roman Catholic apologists are spurious. In fact, the New Catholic Encyclopedia states that the canon was not officially settled for the Western Church as a whole until the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century:

St. Jerome distinguished between canonical books and ecclesiastical books. The latter he judged were circulated by the Church as good spiritual reading but were not recognized as authoritative Scripture. The situation remained unclear in the ensuing centuries…for example, John of Damascus, Gregory the Great, Walafrid, Nicolas of Lyra and Tostado continued to doubt the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books…According to Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until rather late in the history of the Church at the Council of Trent…The Council of Trent definitively settled the matter of the Old Testament Canon. That this had not been done previously is apparent from the uncertainty that persisted up to the time of Trent.93

This is also confirmed by Yves Congar:

…an official, definitive list of inspired writings did not exist in the Catholic Church until the Council of Trent…94

According to Congar and the New Catholic Encylopedia the first infallible decision on the authoritative declaration of the canon, from a Roman Catholic perspective, was the Council of Trent, not Hippo and Carthage. The English tanslator of the Council of Trent, H.J. Schroeder, O.P., wrote:

The Tridentine list or decree was the first infallible and effectually promulgated declaration on the Canon of the Holy Scriptures.95

The New Catholic Encyclopedia states that the reason the canon was not definitively settled for the Church until the Council of Trent is that the issue remained unclear in the centuries subsequent to Jerome; meaning that many leading theologians, cardinals and bishops did not accept the Apocrypha as canonical. This brings us to a consideration of our third major section, the history of the canon from Jerome to the Reformation.


58 Bruce Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University: 1957), pp. 175-178. Return to article.

59 NPNF2, Vol. 1, Eusebius, Church History IV.26.13-14. Return to article

60 F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1988), p. 71. Return to article

61 NPNF2, Vol. 1, Eusebius, Church History VI.25.1-2. Return to article

62 Origen to Africanus, a beloved brother in God the Father, through Jesus Christ, His holy Child, greeting. Your letter, from which I learn what you think of the Susanna in the Book of Daniel, which is used in the Churches, although apparently somewhat short, presents in its few words many problems, each of which demands no common treatment, but such as oversteps the character of a letter, and reaches the limits of a discourse…You begin by saying, that when, in my discussion with our friend Bassus, I used the Scripture which contains the prophecy of Daniel when yet a young man in the affair of Susanna, I did this as if it had escaped me that this part of the book was spurious. You say that you praise this passage as elegantly written, but find fault with it as a more modern composition, and a forgery…In answer to this, I have to tell you what it behooves us to do in the cases not only of the History of Susanna, which is found in every Church of Christ in that Greek copy which the Greeks use, but is not in the Hebrew, or of the two other passages you mention at the end of the book containing the history of Bel and the Dragon, which likewise are not in the Hebrew copy of Daniel; but of thousands of other passages also which I found in many places when with my little strength I was collating the Hebrew copies with ours…And in many other of the sacred books I found sometimes more in our copies than in the Hebrew, sometimes less…And, forsooth, when we notice such things, we are forthwith to reject as spurious the copies in use in our Churches, and enjoin the brotherhood to put away the sacred books current among them, and to coax the Jews, and persuade them to give us copies which shall be untampered with, and free from forgery! Are we to suppose that that Providence which in the sacred Scriptures has ministered to the edification of all the Churches of Christ, had no thought for those bought with a price, for whom Christ died; whom, although His Son, God who is love spared not, but gave Him up for us all, that with Him He might freely give us all things?
+++In all these cases consider whether it would not be well to remember the words, ‘Thou shalt not remove the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set.’… And I make it my endeavor not to be ignorant of their various readings, lest in my controversies with the Jews I should quote to them what is not found in their copies, and that I may make some use of what is found there, even although it should not be in our Scriptures. For if we are so prepared for them in our discussions, they will not, as is their manner, scornfully laugh at Gentile believers for their ignorance of the true reading as they have them. So far as to the History of Susanna not being found in the Hebrew (ANF, Volume 4, Origen, Origen to Africanus 1-2, 4-5). Return to article

63 Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), p. 397. Return to article

64 Now these the divinely-inspired Scriptures of both the Old and New Testament teach us…Learn also diligently, and from the Church, what are the books of the Old Testament, and what those of the New…Read the Divine Scriptures, the twenty-two books of the Old Testament, these that have been translated by the Seventy-two interpreters…Of these read the two and twenty books, but have nothing to do with the apocryphal writings. Study earnestly these only which we read openly in the Church. Far wiser and more pious than thyself were the Apostles, and the bishops of old time, the presidents of the Church, who handed down these books. Being therefore a child of the Church, trench thou not upon its statutes. And of the Old Testament, as we have said, study the two and twenty books, which if thou art desirous of learning, strive to remember by name, as I recite them.
For the Law the books of Moses are the first five, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. And next, Joshua the son of Nave, and the book of Judges, including Ruth, counted as seventh. And of the other historical books, the first and second books of the Kings are among the Hebrews one book; also the third and fourth one book. And in like manner, the first and second of Chronicles are with them one book; and the first and second of Esdras are counted one. Esther is the twelfth book; and these are the historical writings. But those which are written in verses are five, Job, and the book of Psalms, and Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, which is the seventeenth book. And after these come the five Prophetic books: of the Twelve Prophets one book, of Isaiah one, of Jeremiah one, including Baruch and Lamentations and the Epistle; then Ezekiel, and the book of Daniel, the twenty-second of the Old Testament (NPNF2, Vol. 7, Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures IV.33-36). Return to article

65But since we have made mention of heretics as dead, but of ourselves as possessing the Divine Scriptures for salvation; and since I fear lest, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, some few of the simple should be beguiled from their simplicity and purity, by the subtilty of certain men, and should henceforth read other books – those called apocryphal – led astray by the similarity of their names with the true books…In proceeding to make mention of these things, I shall adopt, to commend my undertaking, the pattern of Luke the Evangelist, saying on my own account: ‘Forasmuch as some have taken in hand,’ to reduce into order for themselves the books termed apocryphal, and to mix them up with the divinely inspired Scripture, concerning which we have been fully persuaded, as they who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word, delivered to the fathers; it seemed good to me also, having been urged thereto by true brethren, and having learned from the beginning, to set before you the books included in the Canon, and handed down, and accredited as Divine; to the end that any one who has fallen into error may condemn those who have led him astray; and that he who has continued steadfast in purity may again rejoice, having these things brought to his remembrance.
There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; in their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned one book, and so like wise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament…
These are the fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these…
+++But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being merely read (NPNF2,, Vol. 4, Athanasius, Letter 39.2-7). Return to article

66 Not By Scripture Alone, Joe Gallegos, What Did the Church Fathers Teach?, pp. 459-460. Return to article

67 Council of Rome-Decree of Pope Damasus, The Canon of Scripture (AD 382) as cited by Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, Roy J. Deferrari, trans. (St. Louis: Herder, 1957), p. 34. Return to article

68 Receive the number and names of the holy books. First the twelve historical books in order: first is Genesis, then Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and the testament of the law repeated again; Joshua, Judges and Ruth the Moabitess follow these; after this the famous deeds of Kings holds the ninth and tenth place; the Chronicles comes in the eleventh place, and Ezra is last. There are also five poetic books, first of which is Job, the one next to it is King David’s, and three of Solomon, namely Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and his Song. After these come five books of the holy prophets, of which twelve are contained in one volume: Hosea…Malachi, these are in the first book; the second contains Isaiah. After these is Jeremiah, called from his mother’s womb, then Ezekiel, strength of the Lord, and Daniel last. These twenty-two books of the Old Testament are counted according to the twenty-two letters of the Jews…Let not your mind be deceived about extraneous books (for many false ascriptions are making the rounds), but you should hold to this legitimate number from me, dear reader (Gregory of Nazianzus, Carmina Dogmatica, Book I, Section I, Carmen XII. PG 37:471-474. Translation by Dr. Michael Woodward, Associate Library Director, Archbishop Vehr Theological Library. See also William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 2, p. 42).
IB. Peri; tw`n gnhsivwn Biblivwn th`~ qeopneu`stou Grafh`~.
qeivoi~ ejn logivoisin ajei glwvssh/ te novw/ te strwfa`sq. hj ga;r ejvdwke qeo;~ kamavtwn tovd’ aJveqlou, kaiv ti krupto;n idei`n ojligon favo~, hJ tovd’ ajvriston, Nuvttesqai kaqaroi`o qeou` megavlh/sin ejfetmai`~. J;H trivtaton, cqonivwn ajpavgein frevna tai`sde merivmnai~. JvOfra de; mh; xeivnh/si novon klevptoio bibloisi (Pollai; ga;r televqousi parevggraptoi kakovthte~), Devcnuso tou`ton ejmei`o to;n ejvgkriton, w| fivl’, ajriqmovn. JIstorikai` me;n ejvasi bivbloi duokaivdeka pa`sai th`~ ajrcaiotevrh~ jEbraikh`~ sofivh~. Powtivsth/, Gevnesi~, ei\t’ jvExodo~, Leuitikovn, te. jEpeit’ jApiqmoiv, Ei\ta Deuvtero~ Novmo~. jvEpeit’ jIhsou`~, kai; Kritaiv. Rou;Q ojgdovh. JH d’ ejnavth dekavth te bivbloi, Ppavxei~ basilhvwn, kai; Paraleipovmenai. jvEscaton jjjvEsdran ejvcei~. Ai de; stichrai; pevnte, w|n prw`to~ g’ jIwvb. jvEpeita Daui`d eijvta trei`~ Solomwntivai, jEcclhsiasth;~, jvAsma kai; Paroimivai. Kai; pevnq’ oJmoivw~ Pneuvmato~ profhtikou`. Mivan mevn eijvsin ej~ grafh;n oiJ dwvdeka. jWsne; c’ jAmw;~, kai; Micaiva~ oJ trivto~. jvEpeit’ jIoh;l, eiJvt’ jjIwna`~, jAbdiva~, Naouvm te, jAbbacouvm te, kai; Sofoniva~, jAggai>o~, ei\ta Zacariva~, Malaciva~. Miva me;n oijvde. Deutevra d ; JHsai`a~. jvEpeiq’ oJ klhqei;~ jIeremi`a~ ejk brevfou~. Ei`t’ jjjjIezekih;l, kai; Davihvlou cavri~. jArcaiva~ me;n ejvqhka duvw kai; eijvkosi bivblou~, Toi`~ tw`n JEbraivoi~ qauvmata Cristou.`

+++XII. De veris Scripturae libris. Divinis in litteris semper et lingua et mente versare. Aut enim Deus hoc dedit laboris praemium, ut occultam aliquam lucem percipias, vel, quod optimum est, pungaris Dei sancti magnis praeceptis; vel demum ut his sollicitudinibus avoceris a rebus terrenis. (Sed ne peregrinis libris mens tua subripiatur sunt enim multae ascriptitiae pravitates), accipe a me selectum hunc, amice, numerum. Sunt quidem historici libri omnes duodecim antiquioris Hebraicae sapientiae: Primus Genesis, deinde Exodus et Leviticus; postea Numeri, tum Deuteronomium. Deinde Josue et Judices. Ruth octavus est. Nonus decimusque liber, res gestae Regum, et Paralipomena; Esdram habes ultimo loco. Quinque versibus scripti sunt, quorum primus Job, postea David, tum Salomonis tres, Ecclesiastes, Canticum et Proverbia. Similiter quinque Spiritus prophetici. Ac uno quidem continentur libri duodecim, Osee, et Amos, et Michaeas tertius; deinde Joel, postea Jonas, Abdias, Nahum, Habacuc et Sophonias, Aggaeus, deinde Zacharias, Malachias. Uno hi continentur libro: secundo Isaias, tertio qui vocatus est Jeremias ab infantia, quarto Ezechiel, quinto Danielis gratia. Veteres quidem numeravi duos et viginti libros.
METRICA VERSIO. Carmen XII: De Veris et Germanis Scripturae Libris. In libris sacris linguaque et mente frequenter versare. Aut etenim donat Deus ista laborum praemia, ut absconsae lucis mens sedula quiddam conspiciat; vel certe istine ea commoda carpit, ut per sancta Dei capiat praecepta dolorem; aut, quod postremum est, animos haec lectio rebus abstrahit a fluxis, studia ad meliora vocatos. At, tua ne libris fallatur mens alienis (namque ascriptitii multi falsique vagantur), hunc habeas certum numerum, a me, lector amice. Bisseni libri Veteris sunt Foederis, onmes Historici. Genesis primus liber. Exodus inde Leviticus, Numeri, Legis tunc scita Secundae. Post Jesus, Critae, Ruth, Regumgestaque bini describunt libri. Sequitur liber ille, vocatur qui Paralipomenon. Cunctorum est ultimus Esdras. Quinque metris constant, Job, David, tres Salomonis, Concio, et insignes Cantus, Proverbia sacra. Quinque prophetarum sunt libri rursus, in uno bisseni vates sunt juncti, nomina quorum, Oseas, Amos, Michaeas tertius, inde Joel, ac Jonas, Abdias sextus, at hunc post naumque, Habbacucque octavus. Tum Sophonaeus, Aggaeus, post Zacharias, atque ultimus horum Malachias. Liber hos unus complectitur omnes; Esiam est alter, Jeremiam tertius autem. Ezechiel quarto, Daniel post ordine quinto. Hinc libros numerare duo daiur atque viginti. Tot nempe hebraeae quot sunt elementa loquelae. Perge age jam Pacti libros numerare recentis (Gregory of Nazianzus, Carmina Dogmatica, Book I, Section I, Carmen XII. PG 37:471-474). Return to article

69 As we are dealing with numbers and every number among real existencies a certain significance of which the Creator of the universe made full use as well in the general scheme as in the arrangement of the details, we must give good heed, and with the help of the Scriptures trace their meaning, and the meaning of each of them. Nor must we fail to observe that without reason the canonical books are twenty-two, according to the Hebrew tradition, the same in number as the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. For as the twenty-two letters may be regarded as an introduction to the wisdom and the Divine doctrines given to men in those characters, so the twenty-two inspired books are an alphabet of the wisdom of God and an introduction to the knowledge of realities (Basil the Great, Philocalia, Chapter III, Why the inspired books are twenty-two in number. From the same volume on the 1st Psalm. George Lewis, trans., The Philocalia of Origen: A Compilation of Selected Passages from Origen’s Works made by St. Gregory of Nazianzus and St. Basil of Caesarea (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1911), p. 34. See also Origen, Philocalie, ch. 3, edited by Marguerite Harl, Sources Christiennes 302 (Paris: Cerf, 1983), p. 260). Return to article

70 By the time of the captives’ return from Babylon these Jews had acquired the following books and prophets, and the following books of the prophets: 1. Genesis. 2. Exodus. 3. Leviticus. 4. Numbers. 5. Deuteronomy. 6. The Book of Joshua the son of Nun. 7. The Book of the Judges. 8. Ruth. 9. Job. 10. The Psalter. 11. The Proverbs of Solomon. 12. Ecclesiastes. 13. The Song of Songs. 14. The First Book of Kings. 15. The Second Book of Kings. 16. The Third Book of Kings. 17. The Fourth Book of Kings. 18. The First Book of Chronicles. 19. The Second Book of Chronicles. 20. The Book of the Twelve Prophets. 21. The Prophet Isaiah. 22. The Prophet Jeremiah, with the Lamentations and the Epistles of Jeremiah and Baruch. 23. The Prophet Ezekiel. 24. The Prophet Daniel. 25. I Ezra. 26. II Ezra. 27. Esther. These are the twenty-seven books given the Jews by God. They are counted as twenty-two, however, like the letters of their Hebrew alphabet, because ten books which the Jews reckon as five are double…And they have two more books of disputed canonicity, the Wisdom of Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon, apart from certain other apocrypha (The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Nag Hammadi Studies, Edited by Martin Krause, James Robinson, Frederik Wisse, (Leiden: Brill, 1987), Book I, Section I.6,1).Return to article

71 Besides this, it is most important that you know this also: not everything is to be considered certain which offers itself as venerable Scripture. For there are those written by false men – as is sometimes done. As regards books, there are several which are intermediate and near to the doctrine of truth, so to speak but there are others however, which are spurious and extremely dangerous, like false seals and spurious coins, which do indeed have the inscription of the king, but which are counterfeit, and made out of base material. On account of this then, I shall enumerate for you the individual books inspired by the Holy Spirit, and in order that you may know the thing clearly, I will begin with the books of the Old Testament. The Pentateuch contains Genesis, then Exodus, Leviticus, which is the middle book, after that Numbers and finally Deuteronomy. To these add Joshua and Judges; after these Ruth and the four books of Kings, Paralipomenon equal to one book; following these first and second Esdras. Next I will recall to you five books: the book of Job, crowned by the struggles of various calamaties; also the book of Psalms, the musical remedy of the soul; the three books of the Wisdom of Solomon, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and the Canticle of Canticles. I add to these the twelve prophets, first Hosea, then Amos, and after that Michah, Joel, Abdiah, and Jonah, the type of the three days of the Passion, after these Nahum, Habacuc, then the ninth Sophonias, Haggai and Zachariah and the angel with two names, Malachi. After these, know the other prophets thus far to be four: the great and undaunted Isaiah, Jeremiah, inclined to mercy, and the mystic Ezechiel, and Daniel, most wise in the happenings of the Last Things, and some add Esther to these (Letter to Seleucus. ap. Gregory Nazianzus, Carminum II.vii, PG 37.1593-1595. Translation by Catherine Kavanaugh, University of Notre Dame).
Latin Reference: Praeterae autem istud scire maxime tibi convenit: non omnis liber pro certo habendus, qui venerandum Scripturae nomen praefert. Sunt enim, sunt (ut nonnunquam fit) inscripti falsis hominibus. Libri: nonnulli quidem intermedii sunt ac vicini, ut ita dixerim, veritatis doctrinae; alii vero spurii et magnopere pericuiosi, velut falso signata et spuria numismata, quae regis quidem inscriptionem habent, sed tamen notha sunt, et vitiosa materie confecta. Propterea tibi divino afflatos Spiritu recensebo singulos libros: atque ut rem perspicue noveris, libros Veteris Testamenti primum referam. Pentateuchus continet, Genesim, deinde Exodum, Levitictum, qui medius est liber, post quem Numerus, postremo Deuteronomium. His adde Josue et Judices; postea Ruth, et Regum quatuor libros, Paralipomenon, par unum; secundum hos, Esdras primus et secundus. Exinde versu couditos quinque tibi libros commemorabo: coronati certaminibus variarum calamitatum librurn Jobi; Psalmorum etiam librum, modulatum animae remedium tres libros sapientis Salomonis, Proverbia, Ecclesiastem, et Canticum canticorum. his jungito duodecim prophetas, Osee primum, deinde Amos secundum, Michaeam, Joel, Abdiam, et Jonam, typum trium dierum passionis; Nahum post ipsos, Abacuc, deinde nonum, Sophoniam, Aggaeum, et Zachariam, Binominemque angelum Malachiam. Post hos disce prophetas adhuc esse alios quatuor, intrepidum magnum Isaiam, Jeremiam ad misericordiam propensum, et mysticum Ezechielem, postremum Danielem, eumdem factis sapientissimum, his addunt Esther nonnulli (Letter to Seleucus. ap. Gregory Nazianzus, Carminum II.vii, PG 37:1593-1595). Return to article

72 Henry Barclay Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek (New York: KTAV, 1968), p. 222. Return to article

73 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco: Harper, 1960), pp. 54-55. Return to article

74 Ibid., p. 55. Return to article

75 F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1988), pp. 83-84. Return to article

76 Henry Barclay Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek (New York: KTAV, 1968), p. 224. Return to article

77 ANF, Vol. 4, Tertullian, On Women’s Dress 1.3. Return to article

78 Et ea causa est, ut in viginti duos libros lex Testamenti Veteris deputetur: ut cum litterarum numero convenirent. Qui ita secundum traditiones veterum deputantur, ut Moysi sint libri quinque, Jesu Nave sextus, Judicum et Ruth septimus, primus et secundus Regnorum in octavum, tertius et quartus in nonum, Paralipomenon duo in decimum sint sermones dierum Esdrae in undecimum, liber Psalmorum in duodecimum, Salomonis Proverbia, Ecclesiastes, Canticum canticorum in tertium decimum, et quartum decimum, et quintum decimum, duodecim Prophetae in sextum decimum, Esaias deinde et Jeremias cum lamentatione et epistola, sed et Daniel, et Ezechiel, et Job, et Hester, viginti et duum librorum numerum consumment. Quibusdam autem visum est, additis Tobia et Judith 11 viginti quatuor libros secundum numerum graecarum litterarum connumerare, Romana quoque lingua media inter Hebraeos Graecosque collecta (Sancti Hilarii Pictaviensis Episcopi Tractatus Super Psalmos, Prologue 15, Testamenti Veteris libri XXII, aut 24. Tres linguae praecipuae. PL 9:241. Translation by Dr. Michael Woodward, Associate Library Director, Archbishop Vehr Theological Library). Return to article

79 And therefore it seems proper in this place to enumerate, as we have learnt from the tradition of the Fathers, the books of the New and of the Old Testament, which according to the tradition of our forefathers, are believed to have been inspired by the Holy Ghost, and have handed down to the churches of Christ. Of the Old Testament, therefore, first of all there have been handed down five books of Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; then Jesus Nave, (Joshua the son of Nun), the Book of Judges together with Ruth; then four books of Kings (Reigns), which the Hebrews reckon two; the book of Omissions, which is entitled the Book of Days (Chronicles), and two books of Ezra (Ezra and Nehemiah), which the Hebrews reckon one, and Esther; of the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; moreover of the twelve minor Prophets, one book; Job also and the Psalms of David, each one book. Solomon gave three books to the Churches, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles. These comprise the books of the Old Testament.
+++Of the New there are four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; the Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke; fourteen Epistles of the apostle Paul, two of the Apostle Peter, one of James, brother of the Lord and Apostle, one of Jude, three of John, the Revelation of John. These are the books which the Fathers have comprised within the Canon, and from which they would have us deduce the proofs of our faith.
+++But it should be known that there are also other books which our fathers call not ‘Canonical’ but ‘Ecclesiastical:’ that is to say, Wisdom, called the Wisdom of Solomon, and another Wisdom, called the Wisdom of the Son of Syrach, which last-mentioned the Latins called by the general title Ecclesiasticus, designating not the author of the book, but the character of the writing. To the same class belong the Book of Tobit, and the Book of Judith, and the Books of the Maccabees. In the New Testament the little book which is called the Book of the Pastor of Hermas (and that) which is called the Two Ways, or the Judgment of Peter; all of which they would have read in the Churches, but not appealed to for the confirmation of doctrine. The other writings they have named ‘Apocrypha.’ These they would not have read in the Churches. These are the traditions which the fathers have handed down to us, which, as I said, I have thought it opportune to set forth in this place, for the instruction of those who are being taught the first elements of the Church and of the Faith, that they may know from what fountains of the Word of God their draughts must be taken. (NPNF2, Vol. 3, Rufinus, Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed 36). Return to article

80 NPNF2, Vol. 6, St. Jerome, Prefaces to Jerome’s Works, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs; Daniel. Return to article

81 The first of these books is called Bresith, to which we give the name Genesis. The second, Elle Smoth, which bears the name Exodus; the third, Vaiecra, that is Leviticus; the fourth, Vaiedabber, which we call Numbers; the fifth, Elle Addabarim, which is entitled Deuteronomy. These are the five books of Moses, which they properly call Thorath, that is law.
+++The second class is composed of the Prophets, and they begin with Jesus the son of Nave, who among them is called Joshua the son of Nun. Next in the series is Spohtim,that is the book of Judges; and in the same book they include Ruth, because the events narrated occurred in the days of the Judges. Then comes Samuel, which we call First and Second Kings. The fourth is Malachim, that is, Kings, which is contained in the third and fourth volumes of Kings. And it is far better to say Malachim, that is Kings, than Malachoth, that is Kingdoms. For the author does not describe the Kingdoms of many nations, but that of one people, the people of Israel, which is comprised in the twelve tribes. The fifth is Isaiah, the sixth Jeremiah, the seventh Ezekiel, the eighth is the book of the Twelve Prophets, which is called among the Jews Thare Asra.
+++To the third class belong the Hariographa, of which the first book begins with Job, the second with David, whose writings they divide into five parts and comprise in one volume of Psalms; the third is Solomon, in three books, Proverbs, which they call Parables, that is Masaloth, Ecclesiastes, that is Coeleth, the Song of Songs, which they denote by the title Sir Assirim; the sixth is Daniel; the seventh, Dabre Aiamim, that is, Words of Days, which we may more expressively call a chronicle of the whole of the sacred history, the book that amongst us is called First and Second Chronicles; the eighth, Ezra, which itself is likewise divided amongst Greeks and Latins into two books; the ninth is Esther.
+++And so there are also twenty-two books of the Old Testament; that is, five of Moses, eight of the prophets, nine of the Hagiographa, though some include Ruth and Kinoth (Lamentations) amongst the Hagiographa, and think that these books ought to be reckoned separately; we should thus have twenty-four book of the old law. And these the Apocalypse of John represents by the twenty-four elders, who adore the Lamb, and with downcast looks offer their crowns, while in their presence stand the four living creatures with eyes before and behind, that is, looking to the past and the future, and with unwearied voice crying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who wast, and art, and art to come.
+++This preface to the Scriptures may serve as a ‘helmeted’ introduction to all the books which we turn from Hebrew into Latin, so that we may be assured that what is not found in our list must be placed amongst the Apocryphal writings. Wisdom, therefore, which finally bears the name of Solomon, and the book of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, and Judith, and Tobias, and the Shepherd are not in the canon. The first book of Maccabees I have found to be Hebrew, the second is Greek, as can be proved from the very style. Seeing that all this is so, I beseech you, my reader, not to think that my labors are in any sense intended to disparage the old translators. For the service of the tabernacle of God each one offers what he can; some gold and silver and precious stones, others linen and blue and purple and scarlet; we shall do well if we offer skins and goats hair (NPNF2, Vol. 6, St. Jerome, Prefaces to Jerome’s Works, The Books of Samuel and Kings, pp. 489?490).

Additional comments from Jerome: ‘These instances have been just touched upon by me (the limits of a letter forbid a more discursive treatment of them) to convince you that in the holy scriptures you can make no progress unless you have a guide to shew you the way…Genesis … Exodus … Leviticus … Numbers … Deuteronomy … Job … Jesus the son of Nave … Judges … Ruth … Samuel … The third and fourth books of Kings … The twelve prophets whose writings are compressed within the narrow limits of a single volume: Hosea … Joel … Amos … Obadiah … Jonah … Micah … Nahum … Habakkuk … Zephaniah … Haggai … Zechariah … Malachi … Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel … Jeremiah also goes four times through the alphabet in different metres (Lamentations)… David…sings of Christ to his lyre; and on a psaltry with ten strings (Psalms) … Solomon, a lover of peace and of the Lord, corrects morals, teaches nature (Proverbs and Ecclesiastes), unites Christ and the church, and sings a sweet marriage song to celebrate that holy bridal (Song of Songs) … Esther … Ezra and Nehemiah.
+++You see how, carried away by my love of the scriptures, I have exceeded the limits of a letter…The New Testament I will briefly deal with. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John … The apostle Paul writes to seven churches (for the eighth epistle – that to the Hebrews – is not generally counted in with the others) … The Acts of the Apostles … The apostles James, Peter, John and Jude have published seven epistles … The apocalypse of John…
+++I beg of you, my dear brother, to live among these books, to meditate upon them, to know nothing else, to seek nothing else (NPNF2, Vol. 6, Volume VI, St. Jerome, Letter LIII.6-10). Return to article

82 Charles Joseph von Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church (Edinburgh: Clark, 1896), Synod at Hippo, Canon 36, p. 400. Return to article

83 NPNF2, Volume 14, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, African Code A.D. 419, Canon XXIV, pp. 453-454. Return to article

84 NPNF1, Vol. 2, Augustin, On Christian Doctrine, Book II, Chapter 8. Return to article

85 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1910), Volume III, §118 Sources of Theology. Scripture and Tradition, p. 609. Return to article

86 But another Ptolemy, called Philadelphus, who succeeded him, permitted all whom he had brought under the yoke to return free; and, more than that, sent kingly gifts to the temple of God, and begged Eleazar, who was the high priest, to give him the Scriptures, which he had heard by report were truly divine, and therefore greatly desired to have in that most noble library he had made. When the high priest had sent them to him in Hebrew, he afterwards demanded interpreters of him, and there were given him seventy-two, out of each of the twelve tribes six men, most learned in both languages, to wit, the Hebrew and Greek; and their translation is now by custom called the Septuagint. It is reported, indeed, that there was an agreement in their words so wonderful, stupendous, and plainly divine, that when they had sat at this work, each one apart (for so it pleased Ptolemy to test their fidelity), they differed from each other in no word which had the same meaning and force, or, in the order of the words; but, as if the translators had been one, so what all had translated was one, because in very deed the One Spirit had been in them all. And they received so wonderful a gift of God, in order that the authority of these Scriptures might be commended not as human but divine, as indeed it was, for the benefit of the nations who should at some time believe, as we now see them doing.
+++For while there were other interpreters who translated these sacred oracles out of the Hebrew tongue into Greek, as Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, and also that translation which, as the name of the author is unknown, is quoted as the fifth edition, yet the Church has received this Septuagint translation just as if it were the only one; and it has been used by the Greek Christian people, most of whom are not aware that there is any other. From this translation there has also been made a translation in the Latin tongue, which the Latin churches use. Our times, however, have enjoyed the advantage of the presbyter Jerome, a man most learned and skilled in all three languages, who translated the same Scriptures into the Latin speech, not from the Greek, but from the Hebrew. But although the Jews acknowledge this very learned labor of his to be faithful, while they contend that the Septuagint translators have erred in many places, still the churches of Christ judge that no one should be preferred to the authority of so many men, chosen for this very great work by Eleazar, who was the high priest; for even if there had not appeared in them one spirit, without doubt divine, the seventy learned men had, after the manner of men, compared together the words of their translation, that what pleased them all might stand, no single translator ought to be preferred to them; but since so great a sign of divinity has appeared in them, certainly, any other translator of their Scriptures from the Hebrew into any other tongue is faithful in that case he agrees with these seventy translators, and if he is not found to agree with them, then we ought to believe that the prophetic gift is with them. For the same Spirit who was in the prophets when they spoke these things was also in the seventy men when they translated them, so that assuredly they could also say something else, just as if the prophet himself had said both, because it would be the same Spirit who said both; and could say the same thing differently, so that, although the words were not the same, yet the same meaning should shine forth to those of good understanding; and could omit or add something, so that even by this it might be shown that there was in that work not human bondage, which the translator owed to the words, but rather divine power, which filled and ruled the mind of the translator (NPNF1, Vol. 2, Augustine, The City of God 18.42-43). Return to article

87 New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw Hill, 1967), Volume II, Bible, III, pp. 396-397. Return to article

88 Herbert Edward Ryle, Ezra and Nehemiah (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1907), pp. xiii-xiv. These views are further confirmed by these additional authorities:

Henry Barclay Swete: The ‘Greek Esdras’ consists of an independent and somewhat free version of portions of 2 Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, broken by a long context which has no parallel in the Hebrew Bible…In the early Church the Greek Esdras was accepted without suspicion…Jerome, however, (praef. in Ezr.), discarded the book, and modern editions of the Vulgate relegate it to an appendix where it appears as 3 Esdras, the titles I Esdras and 2 Esdras being given to the two parts of the canonical book of Ezra-Nehemiah’ (Henry Barclay Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek (New York: Ktav Publishing, 1968), pp. 265-267).

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church: ‘Esdras’ is the Greek and Latin form of Ezra. In the Septuagint there are two books of this title-Esdras A, a Greek book based on parts of 2 Chron., Ez., and Neh., with an interpolated story not extant in Hebrew; and Esdras B, a straightforward rendering of the Hebrew Ezra-Neh. (treated as one book). In the current form of the Vulgate these are increased to four, namely: I and II Esdras, i.e. St. Jerome’s rendering of Ezra and Neh., treated as separate books; III Esdras, the Old Latin version of Esdras A; and IV Esdras, another book not extant in Greek. For the original Vulgate Jerome deliberately confined himself to the first two of these, rejecting the other two as uncanonical (Praef. in Esd., c. Vigil. 7); but all four books are commonly included (with some confusion in the numbering) in Latin biblical MSS. In 1546 the Council of Trent (sess. 4) finally rejected III Esdras and IV Esdras from the RC Canon, and in subsequent editions of the Vulgate they appear (with the Prayer of Manasses) as an Appendix following the N.T. (The Oxford Dicxtionary of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University, 1997), p. 560).

Jacob Myers: I Esdras owes its name to the Greek Bible where Esdras A=I Esdras and Esdras B=Ezra and Nehemiah…The Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible) has Esdras I (=Ezra), Esdras 2 (=Nehemiah), Esdras 3 (=I Esdras) and Esdras 4 (=II Esdras)’ (Jacob Myers, I and II Esdras (Garden City: Doubleday, 1982), p. 1). Return to article

89 See Jacob Myers, I and II Esdras (Garden City: Doubleday, 1982), p. 1 and The Encyclopedia of the Early Church (New York: Oxford University, 1992), p. 57, Column 1. Return to article

90 NPNF1, Vol. 2, Augustin, City of God, Book XVIII. 36. Return to article

91 The specific books listed by Innocent in his Letter to Exuperius are as follows: A brief addition shows what books really are received in the canon. These are the desiderata of which you wished to be informed verbally: of Moses five books, that is, of Genesis, of Exodus, of Leviticus, of Numbers, of Deuteronomy, and Josue, of Judges one book, of Kings four books, and also Ruth, of the Prophets sixteen book, of Solomon five books, the Psalms. Likewise of the histories, Job one book, of Tobias one book, Esther one, Judith one, of the Machabees two, of Esdras two, Paralipomenon two books (From the epistle Consulenti tibi to Exuperius, Bishop of Toulouse, Feb. so, 405. Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma (London: Herder, 1954), p. 42. See also Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, p. 211). Return to article

92 B.F. Westcott, The Canon of Scripture. Found in Dr. William Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), Volume I, Canon, p. 363. Return to article

93 New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. II, Bible, III (Canon), p. 390; Canon, Biblical, p. 29; Bible, III (Canon), p. 390. Return to article

94 Yves Congar, Tradition and Traditions (New York: Macmillan, 1966), p. 38. Return to article

95 The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (Rockford: Tan, 1978), Fourth Session, Footnote #4, p. 17. Return to article