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March - April 2020

WHY DO WE HAVE DIFFERENT BIBLES?

Q: My friend recently brought in her Bible because she's trying to read the whole thing, and when I looked at it, I see there are other books of the Bible that my Protestant Bible does not have. For example we only have 1 and 2 Kings - whereas hers has 4?! How can this be? What on earth is the book of 'Wisdom'? Different translations are one thing - but whole other 'BOOKS' are something I really didn't realize were a thing!

A: The Orthodox canon of scripture comes from the translation called the Septuagint (the short-form commonly used is LXX = seventy), so called because it was translated into Greek in the third century B.C. by seventy separate scholars, who each independently produced an identical translation under the direction of the Holy Spirit. This is the canon of the Old Testament that is used by all Orthodox Christians to this day, in various languages.

The Roman Catholics took their canon from the Latin "Vulgate" translation initiated by St. Jerome in the late 4th century A.D. After the Roman Catholic Council of Trent (1546), three Old Testament books were relegated to an Appendix (3 Esdras, 4 Esdras, and the Prayer of Manasseh), and eventually neglected in subsequent printings of Roman Catholic bibles. (The Latin 3 Esdras = Septuagint 1 Esdras. The Latin 4 Esdras is not in the Greek Septuagint, but included as 3 Esdras in the Slavonic Orthodox bible as a translation from the Latin Vulgate.) St. Jerome lived at a time while Western Europe was still Orthodox, before the Great Schism of 1054, and before they believed in the universal authority of the Pope of Rome.

The Protestant canon of the Old Testament began with Martin Luther literally cutting out certain books which he deemed were too supportive of certain Roman Catholic beliefs. His biggest beef was prayer for the dead, found in 2 Maccabees, which became an issue for him because the Roman Papacy was charging people to say prayers for the souls of their departed relatives. Luther cut out several other books as well, literally slicing them out of bibles using a pen knife. He wanted to remove New Testament books too (Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation), but his followers fought him on this: the compromise was to relocate these books to the end of the New Testament in German printings of the New Testament.

Anglicans kept all the "old" Roman Catholic books in their printing of the original King James Bible. These were progressively removed from printings of the King James Bible after the rule of Cromwell in the mid 1600s until their definitive exclusion by the 'British and Foreign Bible Societies' in the 1800s, which is the reason most Protestants and Anglicans have never heard of them today.

We Orthodox - painfully averse to drum sets in church, celebrity preachers, revised doctrines about Jesus Christ, and using our Swiss Army knives to edit the nasty bits out of the Bible - still use the original one.

- FrG+

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