Books of the Bible
Books of the Bible are listed differently in the Bibles of Jews, and Catholic, Protestant, and other Christians. In addition to books found in some Bibles but not others, there are further variations: order may differ; titles of the same books may differ; contrariwise, books with the same title may differ more or less substantially between Bibles; and what is a book in one Bible may be just part of a book in another. Most modern editions in English follow either the Roman Catholic or the standard Protestant canon.
First, the books universally included in modern Bibles. These constitute the Jewish Bible, or Tanakh, known to Protestants as the Old Testament (Roman Catholic and Orthodox Old Testaments include additional material, for which see below).
The Tanakh, or Jewish scriptures, nowadays have the following standard arrangement.
|Jewish Scriptures or Tanakh|
|14. Psalms |
The Five Rolls
The Protestant Old Testament is identical to the Tanakh in contents, but different in arrangement; see below.
Universal Christian books
Next, the books universally included in modern Christian Bibles but not Jewish ones. These are known as the New Testament. The usual Christian arrangement of both Old and New Testaments is into historical, teaching and prophetic (past, present and future). This is not usually made explicit in the tables of contents of English Bibles, though it is commoner in German and Latin ones. The order here is that followed in most modern Western Bibles.
- historical books
- Acts of the Apostles
- teaching books: Epistles (letters)
- ascribed to Paul
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- 1 Thessalonians
- 2 Thessalonians
- Pastoral Epistles
- 1 Timothy
- 2 Timothy
- "Catholic" Epistles
- 1 Peter
- 2 Peter
- 1 John
- 2 John
- 3 John
- ascribed to Paul
- prophetic book: Revelation
Next, the books found in the Bibles of a majority of Christians. Specifically, they are found in the Bible of the Roman Catholic Church, which seems to be the majority according to most authorities. These books are also included in most Eastern Bibles, and in the Apocrypha sections found both in traditional Anglican and Lutheran Bibles, and in modern ecumenical ones.
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
- Wisdom of Solomon
- Ecclesiasticus or Sirach
The arrangement of the Old Testament in most modern Western Bibles is as follows. The Roman Catholic Old Testament includes books (marked here with *) and passages in other books (marked with †) not included in the Jewish Bible or Protestant Old Testament.
- historical books
- Samuel (2 books)
- Kings (2 books)
- Chronicles (2 books)
- 1 Maccabees*
- 2 Maccabees*
- teaching books
- Song of Songs or Song of Solomon
- Ecclesiasticus or Sirach*
- prophetic books
Some other books
Finally, a large number of books are or have been included in the Bible by various minorities. Neither the Eastern Orthodox Church nor the Oriental Orthodox Church has an agreed Bible, so fully detailed accounts similar to those for Catholics and Protestants above cannot be given. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible (2011) has articles on the following in addition to those already listed above:
- Andrew, Acts of
- Clement, Letters of: 2 letters included in the 5th-century Bible manuscript known as Codex Alexandrinus
- 1 Enoch: in the Ethiopian Bible
- 1 Esdras: in most Eastern Bibles and Apocrypha sections
- 2 Esdras: ditto; the latter version includes material not in the former
- Ignatius, Letters of
- Jeremiah, Letter of: separate book in most Orthodox Bibles and some Apocrypha sections, but part of Baruch in Catholic ones
- Joseph and Aseneth
- Jubilees: in the Ethiopian Bible
- 3 Maccabees: in most Eastern Bibles and Apocrypha section of (New) Revised Standard version since 1973
- 4 Maccabees: appendix in some Greek Orthodox Bibles; in (N)RSV Apocrypha since 1973
- Manasseh, Prayer of: as a separate book in most Apocrypha sections; in 2 Chronicles in most Eastern Bibles
- Mary, Gospel of
- Paul and Thecla, Acts of
- Philip, Gospel of
- Pilate, Acts of
- Psalm 151: as a separate book in Apocrypha section of (N)RSV since 1973; in Psalms in most Eastern Bibles
- Shepherd of Hermas: included in Codex Sinaiticus, one of the two oldest Bibles in existence (4th century), and included in some canonical lists up to the 6th century
- Thomas, Gospel of
Note on the books of Esdras:
The numbering of these is very confusing:
- Greek/English 1 Esdras = Latin 3 Esdras
- Greek 2 Esdras = Hebrew/English Ezra/Nehemiah = Latin 1/2 Esdras
- Latin 4 Esdras = English 2 Esdras and includes Slavonic 3 Esdras
Some scholars additionally refer to parts of English 2 Esdras as 5/6 Esdras.
The English terminology is used in this article.
The oldest surviving Christian lists of canonical books date from late in the second century, and the oldest actual Bibles from the fourth. For earlier times scholars must collate and interpret numerous individual references. They generally conclude that the situation was similar to that in the following centuries: the canon of scripture was fuzzy, with a grey area at the edges of both the Old Testament and the New. Both the lists and the physical Bibles vary somewhat in contents, but they contain mostly the same material. The differences were not considered important. People did not call each other heretics or excommunicate each other over them. Though ecumenical councils were convened to deal with disputes within the church, there is no documented canon of scripture from such a council until the (Roman Catholic) Council of Florence in 1439, though there is a tradition that the Council of Nicaea (325) approved one (Jerome, writing about 60 years later, says it included the book of Judith).
In the case of the New Testament this variation gradually disappeared. The modern canon of the New Testament is first documented in 367, in the Easter letter of Athanasius of Alexandria. It was adopted at various local Western church councils later in that century, but the church of Antioch continued to exclude several books well into the next century, and many Eastern authorities continued to exclude Revelation for several centuries thereafter. Gradually, though, over the centuries, an almost universal consensus evolved.
For the Old Testament, no such consensus has ever been achieved. The Easter letter mentioned above gives an Old Testament canon differing from the modern Jewish canon only in excluding Esther and including Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah. It also gives a separate list of Apocrypha, including Esther, and such a two-tier Old Testament is typical of most Eastern authorities in later centuries. The actual manuscripts, however, just as in the West, mix the Apocrypha in with the Old Testament, and this, together with studies of the way texts are cited, suggests the theoretical distinction was not considered very important in practice.
Most Western authorities, on the other hand, mention no such distinction, though it was not until 1546 that the Council of Trent explicitly stated that all the books and parts of books in the Roman Catholic canon are equally sacred and canonical. This canon first appears in the records of the same fourth century councils as approved Athanasius' canon of the New Testament, though the actual contents of manuscripts, as in the East, varied somewhat.
Disputes between Catholics and Protestants combined with the introduction of printing to fix Western canons definitively. Protestants adopted the by then standard Jewish canon as their canon for the Old Testament. However, at first their Bibles included a separate Apocrypha section, whose content was largely decided by historical accident: the contents of the Vulgate manuscript used by Gutenberg for the first printed edition. The seventeenth-century British Puritans were mainly responsible for a movement to excise them altogether from Protestant Bibles, which largely succeeded in the nineteenth century.
The Eastern Orthodox Church continues largely with the traditional attitude of the East: Bibles vary somewhat in contents, there is a theoretically recognized distinction between two grades of books, but they are mixed together.
For the ancient Jewish tradition, scholars are not agreed on which Jews regarded which books as canonical when, because of the uncertainty in the dates of many of the rabbis quoted.