Scripture Canons

The Bible is a collection of books but the Bible itself does not define what it includes. An accepted definition of the composition of the Bible is called a "canon". The word canon comes from the Greek for "a straight rod" or "a carpenter's rule". It denoted a measuring tool and came to mean a "standard". It is in this sense that it used by Christians. A canon is an accepted list of religious books which are regarded as genuine and sacred.

The Hebrew Bible includes only the books known to Christians as the Old Testament. The Christian Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible consist of the same books, but arranged in a different order. Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions add some further books and parts of books.

The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament and the New Testament. Generally Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestants share the same New Testament, all having been originally written in the Greek language, but there are a few minor differences in some Orthodox traditions, especially in ordering.

The commonly accepted books of the Old Testament and New Testament are known as the proto-canon (from the Greek "proto" meaning first), and those books which are in some canonical traditions but not all are known as the deutero-canon (from the Greek "deutero" meaning second).

The Roman Catholic (RC) and Orthodox traditions include all the books of the Hebrew Bible in their Old Testament plus some additions which were in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Alexandrian Canon. These additions include some whole books e.g. Tobit and some Greek additions to Esther and Daniel.

These additional items are called the deutero-canonical books by Roman Catholics. In Roman Catholic Bibles the deutero-canonical books are usually an integral part of the Old Testament.

Protestant Christians accept the Hebrew canon for their Old Testament. They include the shorter Hebrew versions of Esther and Daniel, and exclude the deutero-canonical books. Protestants refer to these books as "apocryphal" books (from the Greek "apokryphos" meaning hidden). Protestants do not regard these books as canonical but still regard them as being of historical or religious value. In Protestant Bibles they are sometimes separated and printed between the Old and New Testaments in a section called the "Apocrypha" or more usually they are omitted altogether.

Other books that all traditions regard as false are called the "pseudepigrapha" (from the Greek meaning false writing).

The differences in canon arise from the different traditions within historic Jewish and Christian communities. BFBS LC have compiled a report listing the differences in the different canonical traditions and how those differences might affect Paratext users. Read the report here: canonicalissuesinparatext.pdf.