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The protocanonicals are those 53 books of the Bible which were not disputed in the early Christian Church.

Six Old Testament books were early excluded from the Bible by some highly respected Christian leaders. St. Athanasius, a fourth century bishop of Alexandria, omitted Esther from his list,[1] potentially having been influenced by an early 22-book Jewish canon, possibly the one mentioned but not specified by Josephus.[2] Theodore of Mopsuestia omitted Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and Ezra-Nehemiah to obtain a listing of 22 books.[3]

Seven books of the New Testament were disputed until the 16th century: Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and The Apocalypse of John (Revelation). Martin Luther dismissed as uncanonical and uninspired the books of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation, initially placing them into an appendix at the end of the New Testament of his German Bible.[4]

See Deuterocanonicals

Canonical status

The protocanonical books are those 53 books of the Bible which have been accepted since A.D. the first century as divinely-inspired scripture by all Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians.

The protocanonical books have always been retained in the Greek Bible. Orthodoxy in the east was never confronted with a need to officially define the canon of the Bible and has continued to use the Septuagint as passed down from the time of the apostles of the ancient Church in the 1st century to the present day.

The oldest extant manuscripts of the entire Christian Bible are written in Greek, the language of the apostles and the early Christian Church, representing the text of the Holy Bible as it was before the time of Jerome's 5th century Vulgate translation of the scriptures into Latin. These are the Codex Vaticanus, the Codex Sinaiticus, and the Codex Alexandrinus.[5]

Twenty of the 27 books of the New Testament were accepted early in the history of Christianity, while the other seven that make up the Scriptures were subjects of dispute by a minority of biblical scholars until the 16th century.

When Constantine first made Christianity a legal religion in the Roman Empire in the early 300s, he called together leading Christians from the East and West parts of the empire to iron out the principles of Christianity, including cementing the canon. The entire canonical text was identified by Pope Damasus I and the Synod of Rome (382).[6] Subsequent councils such as the Council of Hippo (393) and the Third Council of Carthage (397), dealt with minor questions of authenticity, affirming the canon of Damasus and the Synod of Rome, and set forth the first-ever listing of all 27 books of the New Testament together, with 46 books of the Old Testament, a canon of 73 books of the Bible, which quickly gained acceptance and remained unchanged for 1200 years. Still, 7 books of the Old Testament (and parts of 2 other books) and 7 books of the New Testament, 14 total, while accepted by the majority of Christian scholars and church leaders as part of the Biblical canon, continued to be debated by a minority of independent scholars, from the 4th through the 16th centuries, many of them quoting from the disputed books as if they were authoritative scripture.[7] Jerome (Prologus Galeatus c. 420) listed the books rejected by the Jews as "apocryphal" but himself quoted them as if they were scripture.[8] Since the 16th century these 14 books have been designated deuterocanonical, as distinct from the protocanonical books, those books of scripture which were universally accepted without debate from the 1st century of the church.

The canon of Damasus, and the Synods of Rome, Hippo and Carthage, was reaffirmed at the Council of Florence of the (briefly reunited) Church of the east and west in 1442.[9] For the Catholic Church, a formal dogmatic proclamation was made at the Council of Trent, that the Bible the Church had been using and the books it contained "with all their parts" was correct, in reaction to the Protestant Reformation's rejection of 7 of the deuterocanonical works as apocrypha, together with those parts of 2 other canonical books which had been long debated (parts of Esther and Daniel). However, 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras and Prayer of Manasseh were not included in the canon of the Catholic Bible defined by the Council of Trent, although they were part of the Vulgate, but they were subsequently placed in an appendix to the definitive Clementine Vulgate, "lest they be lost altogether". This definitively closed 1400 years of intermittant debate over the traditional canon of the Bible in the Catholic Church, and declared henceforth anathema (cursed) any one who persisted in holding any dissenting opinion in the matter [10] (see 1 Corinthians 16:22; Galatians 1:6-9; Romans 13:1-2; Hebrews 13:17; 2 Peter 1:20 and 3:16-17; Jude 8, 16-19; Revelation 22:19).

Old Testament protocanonical books

The protocanon of 33 books of the Christian Old Testament does not follow the grouping and ordering of the Hebrew Tanach/Tanakh but follows the order of the Septuagint.

  • 1 Genesis
  • 2 Exodus
  • 3 Leviticus
  • 4 Numbers
  • 5 Deuteronomy
  • 6 Joshua
  • 7 Judges
  • 8 Ruth
  • 9 1 Samuel
  • 10 2 Samuel
  • 11 1 Kings
  • 12 2 Kings
  • 13 1 Chronicles
  • 14 2 Chronicles
  • 15 Psalms
  • 16 Proverbs
  • 17 Isaiah
  • 18 Jeremiah
  • 19 Lamentations
  • 20 Ezekiel
  • 21 Daniel
  • 22 Hosea
  • 23 Joel
  • 24 Amos
  • 25 Obadiah
  • 26 Jonah
  • 27 Micah
  • 28 Nahum
  • 29 Habakkuk
  • 30 Zephaniah
  • 31 Haggai
  • 32 Zechariah
  • 33 Malachi

New Testament protocanonical books

This is the protocanon of 20 books of the Christian New Testament which have been accepted by all Christian believers without dispute to this day.

  • 1 The Gospel According to Matthew
  • 2 The Gospel According to John
  • 3 The Gospel According to Mark
  • 4 The Gospel According to Luke
  • 5 The Acts of the Apostles
  • 6 Epistle of Paul to the Romans
  • 7 First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians
  • 8 Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians
  • 9 Epistle of Paul to the Galatians
  • 10 Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians
  • 11 Epistle of Paul to the Philippians
  • 12 Epistle of Paul to the Colossians
  • 13 First Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians
  • 14 Second Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians
  • 15 First Epistle of Paul to Timothy
  • 16 Second Epistle of Paul to Timothy
  • 17 Epistle of Paul to Titus
  • 18 Epistle of Paul to Philemon
  • 19 First Epistle of Peter
  • 20 First Epistle of John

See also




Biblical Canon


  1. Letter 39, Athanasius of Alexandria, English translation
  2. "Josephus and the Twenty-two-book Canon of Sacred Scripture", Duane L. Christiansen, professor of Old Testament languages and literature at American Baptist Seminary of the West in Berkeley, California.
  3. Theodore of Mopsuestia, article from the Catholic Encyclopedia
  4. Luther and "New Testament Apocrypha"
  5. See especially the following three valuable sources: These are also listed below, as External links.
  6. Major Church Pronouncements on the Bible
    Decree of Council of Rome (AD 382) on the Biblical Canon, by Dr Taylor Marshall
    BlogSpot. Beggars All: Reformation & Apologetics. Pope Damasus and the Canon of Scripture (Part One) ( See also (Part Two) Both Parts offer clear explanations and clarifications by one Protestant apologist of the rationale for the firm Protestant position that the decision by Pope Damasus and the Synod of Rome in 382 on the canon of the books of the Bible is invalid (includes discussions).
  7. The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha. Part 3: From Jerome to the Reformation, William Webster. This article provides extensive translations of the writings of many of the major Western theologians from the fifth to the sixteenth centuries on their view of the Canon for the first time in English.
    See also Jerome on the Canon (
  8. Edmon Gallagher on Jerome's Prologus and the Council of Hippo regarding the Canon (2013)
  9. Saturday, October 26, 2013. The Council of Florence on the Pope, the Church and the Bible
    Catholic Encyclopedia (1915) Canon of the Old Testament "During the deliberations of the Council [of Trent] there never was any real question as to the reception of all the traditional Scripture. Neither--and this is remarkable--in the proceedings is there manifest any serious doubt of the canonicity of the disputed writings. In the mind of the Tridentine Fathers they had been virtually canonized, by the same decree of Florence, and the same Fathers felt especially bound by the action of the preceding ecumenical synod" [of Florence]."
    Christian Classics Ethereal Library. History of the Church, Vol. 6: § 18. The Council of Ferrara-Florence. 1438–1445.
    Canons of the ECUMENICAL COUNCIL OF FLORENCE (1438-1445) (Basel/Ferrara/Florence/Rome)
  10. "But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema."The Council of Trent. The Fourth Session. The canons and decrees of the sacred and oecumenical Council of Trent, Trans. J. Waterworth (London: Dolman, 1848), 17-21. [Page 17] SESSION THE FOURTH Celebrated on the eighth day of the month of April, in the year MDXLVI. DECREE CONCERNING THE CANONICAL SCRIPTURES

External links