What Are the Sacred Books of Catholics?

by David Kenneth
The Catholic Bible contains the sacred texts of Catholicism.

The Catholic Bible contains the sacred texts of Catholicism.

Size matters, it seems, at least when it comes to the Catholic Bible. Catholics have seven more sacred books than do their Protestant brethren. As with most religions, Christians understand their sacred books to be gifts of divine inspiration. Though men wrote the texts, members believe that God, the creator, informed the authors what to write through divine intervention. Once Christianity became legal to practice in 312, the Catholic Church created a canon, or standard set of books, for the practice of Christianity. This canon, the Catholic Bible, consists of 73 books that the church considers sacred.

The Old Testament

Written at some point between 1000 and 100 B.C., the Old Testament consists of 46 books split topically into the Torah, Prophets and Writings. Most of the Old Testament came originally in Hebrew, the language of the Jews from whom Jesus, the Christian savior of humankind, originated. The Old Testament provides a narrative of the Jews’ struggles and successes in the generations prior to the birth of Jesus.

The Deuterocanonical

Of the 46 books in the Catholic version of the Old Testament, seven books are not sacred in other forms of Christianity. These books, known as the Deuterocanonical are Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach and Baruch. These books, the last found in the Old Testament, aroused controversy because unlike the others, they came originally written in Greek.

The New Testament

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus, along with the subsequent teachings of his followers, are the subject of the New Testament. There are 27 books in this section of the Bible. These books, written between 50 and 100 years following the death of Jesus by crucifixion in Jerusalem, are sacred in all forms of Christianity.

Establishing the Canon of Catholic Sacred Books

Catholic leaders convened three synods, or church councils, to determine the books worthy of incorporation in the canon. The three synods, all held in Northern Africa, were Hippo (393), Carthage I (397) and Carthage II (419). The councils determined to be sacred what are now the 46 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament of the Catholic Bible. This canon constituted the official Christian Bible.

Martin Luther and the Apocrypha

A German priest disgruntled with church doctrine concerning salvation began a reform movement in 1517 that would split the Christian church into Catholic and Protestant variations. Martin Luther believed that the Catholic doctrine of salvation through actions, or good works, was incorrect. This reform movement, known as the Protestant Reformation, resulted eventually in the creation of thousands of separate Christian denominations. Luther, the founder of Protestant Christianity, refused to consider the Deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament sacred when he translated the Bible into German in 1534. He labeled these books the “Apocrypha," or texts that are not sacred. For this reason, Protestant Bibles contain seven books fewer than those used by Catholics.

About the Author

David Kenneth has a Ph.D. in history. His work has been published in "The Journal of Southern History," "The Georgia Historical Quarterly," "The Southern Historian," "The Journal of Mississippi History" and "The Oxford University Companion to American Law." Kenneth has been working as a writer since 1999.

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