Answering Nine Protestant Arguments About the Bible

After yesterday’s post, Brent Stubbs pointed out that a thoughtful Protestant named Shawn Madden raised a number of arguments against the Catholic Bible, and in favor of the Protestant Bible, in the comments at Called to Communion.  His full argument is here, but he essentially makes nine points:

  1. Many versions of the TNK used by Greek-speaking Jews varied from the Catholic Old Testament.
  2. The versions of the TNK which mirror the Catholic Old Testament are of Christian, not Jewish, origin.
  3. We can know which canon Jesus affirms because of His words in Matthew 23.35.
  4. Josephus, Philo, the son of Sirach, and Jesus have the same canon and ordering in mind.
  5. The canon at the time of Sirach, Philo, Jesus, and Josephus was known, recognized, accepted by all of Judaism without the felt need to refer to an authoritative pronouncement.
  6. “General widespread agreement” is how the Church derived Her canon.
  7. Catholics think that the Church must authoritatively confirm the canon for a canon to exist.
  8. The regional councils of Carthage and Laodicea disagree.
  9. The whole church came to recognize what books were NT Scripture (Jesus had already told them what the extent of the TNK was) early on and did not need nor rely on a authoritative council. 

Here’s how I responded to his nine points:

1. Many versions of the TNK used by Greek-speaking Jews varied from the Catholic Old Testament.

True.  There was a lot of variation in the Jewish canon.  This is one reason why your # 5 is false.

2. The versions of the TNK which mirror the Catholic Old Testament are of Christian, not Jewish, origin.

True. This points to the fact that the early Christians were actually much clearer about the proper canon of Scripture than were the Hellenistic Jews.

3. We can know which canon Jesus affirms because of His words in Matthew 23.35.

False.   In Matthew 23:35, Jesus is condemning the Pharisees.  In doing so, He’s using the Pharasiac Canon.  But in the previous chapter, when He condemns the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-33, He uses the Sadduccees’ canon.  Specifically, He uses the Torah alone to prove the Resurrection (even though the Resurrection is much more easily proven from passages like Daniel 12:1-3, and 1 Samuel 28, and Psalm 16:9-10).  That’s because that was the canon used by the Sadduccees.  I talk about it on my own blog here.  If you’re looking for a confirmation of a particular canon, look to Acts 17:11, where St. Paul praises the Hellenistic Bereans for reading their Scriptures.

4. Josephus, Philo, the son of Sirach, and Jesus have the same canon and ordering in mind.

False.  The only thing that the passages you cite to have in common is that they all talk about the three-fold TNK ordering: Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim.   But every Book of the Catholic Old Testament is either Law (Torah),  Prophets (Nevi’im), or Writings (Ketuvim).   Both Catholics or Protestants could employ this three-fold ordering if they wanted to; neither do.  So showing that the Jews classically put their Scriptures in these three groups doesn’t tell us what Books were in those groups.   It’s true that for some Jews (like Josephus, and possibly Philo), the TNK included only the modern Protestant Bible.  But this wasn’t the only TNK canon.

5. The canon at the time of Sirach, Philo, Jesus, and Josephus was known, recognized, accepted by all of Judaism without the felt need to refer to an authoritative pronouncement.

False.  If the Sadducees used the Pharisees’ canon, Jesus wouldn’t have dealt with them as He did.  As you said in #1, there were multiple canons even amongst the Hellenists.  There was nothing near canonical unanimity during Temple Judaism.

6. “General widespread agreement” is how the Church derived Her canon.

Partially true.  The sensus fidelium is certainly the earliest way we know the canon.  But as you yourself noted in #8, the Christians didn’t completely agree.  That said, it’s incredibly significant that not a single early Christian seems to have accepted the Protestant Old Testament. I go through a pretty full list of candidates here.

7. Catholics think that the Church must authoritatively confirm the canon for a canon to exist.

False.  The Church doesn’t create Truth, She recognizes It.  So the Church simply affirmed the canon of Scripture which most people knew to be true once a vocal minority began to question it.  Likewise, She did the same thing with the Trinity, once non-Trinitarian heresies became a threat.  In both cases, the underlying belief (the canon of Scripture and the Trinity) were widely believed before the formal definition.  And significantly, that canon of Scripture was the Catholic one.

8. The regional councils of Carthage and Laodicea disagree.

True.*  Regional councils aren’t infallible, and Laodicea was wrong.  But Carthage was right, and significantly, accepted by Pope Damasus I, who commissioned Jerome to make versions of that canon accessible to the Latin-speaking populace.

[EDIT: *Tikhon notes in the comments below that Laodicea doesn’t claim to be a list of every inspired Book, so there’s technically no disagreement.]

9. The whole church came to recognize what books were NT Scripture (Jesus had already told them what the extent of the TNK was) early on and did not need nor rely on a authoritative council.

Sort-of true.  Laodicea has the wrong New Testament canon, omitting Revelation.  So there really was a need for papal intervention, which we got (see #8, above).


Significantly, the Church didn’t decide the Old and New Testament canons separately.  Both were handled as a unit — for example, in Canon 24 of the Council of Carthage.  So I think it would be an error to say that we can take our Old Testament from one place (Jewish consensus, rejected by the Christians) and our New Testament from someplace else (Christian consensus).  If Christian consensus is our guide, the Catholic Old Testament is the accurate one.  If we’re going to ignore Christian consensus when we don’t like the answer, then let’s at least be honest about it.

As an aside, this appeal to Christian consensus, to the sensus fidelium, is an appeal to an extra-Biblical Sacred Tradition, whether you acknowledge it or not.  It’s an admission that for at least one critical doctrine (“which Books are in the Bible?”), your answer comes outside of the Bible Itself, from the early Christians.

To summarize: the Jews at the time of Christ didn’t have an agreed upon canon; when there was a general Jewish consensus on the canon, that consensus was rejected by the early Christians; the Christians had a general consensus on the canon of Scripture, and it was the Catholic Bible; the Council of Carthage, Pope Damasus I, and the creation of a Church-wide Vulgate Bible all supported this conclusion.  No one prior to the Reformers seems to have used the 66-Book Bible beloved by Protestants.


  1. Dear Joe,

    No. 8 is not precise. The canon of Laodicea is not wrong. The Fifth-Sixth Oecumenical Synod expilicitly approved its canon alongside that of Carthage. This is because the canon of Laodicea is not intended to be exclusive, whereas that of Carthage is. Note the differences in both intention and language: the former proclaims “those books that should be read,” whereas the latter precludes “anything else from being read in the Church in the name of Divine Scripture.”

  2. Tikhon: Good catch on Laodicea. While we don’t accept the canonicity of the Quinisext Council, it’s certainly true that if Laodicea isn’t intended to be comprehensive, there’s no tension between it and Carthage.

    Cary and EP: thanks!

    Daniel: Good point on Chanukkah. I’ve raised it myself before, as reason #5 to believe in the Deuterocanon here (

    All: God bless,


  3. I have a vague memory from my apologetics class way back in HS of Christ almost exclusivly quoting from what would later be the deuterocanon. Is this true? And if so, how do protestants answer that?

  4. Tom,

    No — the opposite is true. One of the reasons that Protestants sometimes cite is that Christ rarely (if ever) quotes from the Deuterocanon, although He does seem to refer to it at times. This is probably because it’s Deuterocanonical — if the goal is to persuade a group on a particular doctrine, quote Scriptures the whole audience believes in, rather than those only believed in by some.

  5. One thing that is true, though, is that the Greek OT scripture is frequently (if not solely) quoted. In addition, Paul alludes quite frequently to Septuagint versus that have no known parallels in Jewish TNK. The RSV footnotes make frequent note of them.

  6. Excellent! I always wondered when I was Protestant and finding my way across The Tiber the same sort of thing about Hanukkah.

    Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew and the Gospel according to St.John chapter 10 verses 22-24 Jesus, Himself, is walking in the Temple during The Feast of Dedication and other Jews are there as well. They actually dialogue with him.

    SO, I always thought it common sense to think that either Jesus read or knew about the Book of Maccabees since that is the only place the celebration is mentioned and/or explained as far as know.

    I even heard a Jewish Scholar/Professor say how strange it was that the only “Bible” that tells about the holiday of Hanukkah is in the Catholic Bible. Sounds like someone chopped out a book or two that was needed…the old “throw the baby out with the bath water”. It’s just common sense and some Protestants will do and say anything rather than stop protesting. Pride is always ugly and divisive.


  7. Theocoid, yes — Jesus certainly used both versions, while modern Protestantism would have use reject the Greek version. Specific passages, like Hebrews 10:5-7, Mark 7:6-8, and Mt. 21:16 only make sense if He’s quoting from the Greek version of the Old Testament — the version which includes the Deuterocanon.

    Teresa, it’s true. Channukah is found in neither the modern Jewish nor Protestant Old Testament — there aren’t even references to it. The Talmud (written after the time of Christ) does reference it, which explains why Jews today can coherently justify celebrating it, but that still leaves Protestants in a strange place. How can one justify Jesus celebrating Channukah using the Protestant Old Testament? He seems to be either clinging to a “tradition of men,” or using a larger set of God-breathed Scriptures.

    God bless,


  8. I hadn’t realized this Synod was not accepted by you. What, then, of Pope Adrian’s approval, the Second Synod Nicaea, or the Decretum of Gratian?

  9. Tikhon, I’m not positive I understand your question. We do accept, and the pope has accepted, the Second Synod of Nicea (we view it as the Seventh of the Seven Ecumenical Councils) and the Decretum of Gratian (although I don’t think we view canon law in the same way that you do).

  10. I mean that the West views it as an illegitimate attempt to smuggle in an Eighth Ecumenical Council under the guise that it was just completing the two prior Councils. And we outright reject the content of certain canons (as relate to the status of the Patriarch of Constantinople vis-a-vis the Pope, for example, in its attempt to make them equal in honor). The papacy rejected Quinsext from the beginning, as did the entire West, even braving Imperial orders.

    Schaff, a Protestant historian, offers a unique view on the matter in his introductory note to the canons:

    God bless,


  11. The Synod explicitly says the Patriarch of Constantinople is second to that of Rome. Other than that, I’m aware of some of its more inflammatory points. Yet, the Seventh Synod was held after this one and accepts it. The Decretum of Gratian accepts it. And you accept these.

    But we don’t have to argue about it. You have already alluded to the fact that there are fundamental differences in understanding that make this a moot point–which surpass the merely external disagreements and belie the external similarities.

  12. @ Joe: How does Yeshua (or anyone else) celebrating the Feast of Dedication justify 1&2 Mac being in the canon? Just because part of a book holds true doesn’t mean the whole book holds true. For example: Muslims believe Isa was born of Mary. Does that make Islam justifiable?

  13. Michael,

    If the only written source reporting that Jesus was born of Mary was the Quran, and we Christians accepted that Jesus was born of Mary, then we’d either be (a) accepting the Quran’s inspiration, (b) rejecting the Quran’s inspiration, but accepting it as true, or (c) relying on some sort of unwritten tradition.

    That’s not the case with the Qu’ran. It reported, centuries after the Bible, what the world already knew. Jesus Christ was born of a Virgin named Mary. Simply put, no Christian anywhere derives their belief in the Virgin Birth from the Qu’ran. We get it from the Bible.

    But with the case of Channukah, it’s not as if there was some other source talking about Channukah at or before the time of Christ. So either Jesus is (a) implicitly acknowledging First and Second Maccabees as inspired; (b) acknowledging First and Second Maccabees as unispired, but true; or (c) relying on some sort of unwritten, extra-Scriptural tradition.

    Since most Evangelical Protestants believe that First and Second Maccabees are uninspired and false, and that we shouldn’t build Christianity around unwritten, extra-Scriptural traditions, each of these three options creates a significant problem for them.

    What’s more striking is that it’s here, while He’s celebrating a holiday found only in the Deuterocanon, that Christ speaks plainly about the importance of Scripture, saying that it “cannot be broken” (John 10:35). I would say that the full context points to (a), but I admit that — to someone looking at this passage in isolation — (b) and (c) are possibilities.

    God bless,


  14. Evening, all. I’m a Protestant being dragged (at times) and walking whistling (at other times) towards Catholicism, and this post provides some nice responses to commonly raised objections, so I appreciate it (whistle, whistle). I do, however, have a question about the canon of Scripture approved by the Council of Carthage in its 24th canon. Named among the OT books are “two books of Ezra.” In the Vulgate (later, agreed upon version, I suppose), this is 1 and 2 Esdras which correspond to Ezra and Nehemiah in modern Bibles, two books accepted by all. In the Masoretic text, these two canonical books are a single book, Ezra, and that’s the only Ezra-related book included. However, in the Septuagint, Ezra and Nehemiah were considered one book so-called Esdras B. Included in some versions of the Septuagint was also Esdras A which corresponds to the non-canonical (for Protestants and Catholics but canonical for a number of Eastern traditions) book of Esdras A (Septuagint) a.k.a. 3 Esdras (Vulgate) a.k.a. 1 Esdras (Protestant reckoning).

    So, what did the Fathers at Carthage have in mind when they approved two books of Esdras? If they meant Septuagint Esdras B (good) and Esdras A (bad), then I think we’ve hit a tough spot, considering that the Council of Trent affirmed “the first book of Esdras, and the second which is entitled Nehemias” in Session 4 and not the writing contained in Esdras A. Now, I recognize that the Carthaginian canon 24 isn’t super clear about their point of reference. They could have conceivably had the Vulgate in mind since the council was held in 419 and the Vulgate composed by the end of the fourth century, but Vulgate manuscripts from those early centuries are absent or inconsistent, or so I read, and the OT contents continued to be in flux for a good while after Jerome’s work, finally being closed at Trent. If my “facts” are off, please let me know. Following these funny names down historical rabbit holes sometimes leaves me a little lost.

    Is this one of those give ’em the benefit of the doubt situations? It’s tough for me, really, since Trent possibly disagreeing with Carthage/Roman approval has some serious implications. I’d appreciate whatever information you can offer. Thanks a million.

    Whistling on.

  15. Drew,

    That was a great question. I’d never heard or thought of that question before. Turns out, it’s been answered before by Hugh Pope, O.P., in The Third Book of Esdras and the Tridentine Canon, Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. VIII (1907), available here, starting at page 218.

    Pope’s basic point is that we know that (a) Jerome rejected “Esdras A,” and that (b) Jerome and Augustine debated the proper status of the Deuterocanon. Yet we never see St. Augustine, the great defender of the Council of Carthage, defend Esdras A — this suggests, but doesn’t prove, that he didn’t think it was canonical, either.

    That argument is good, but I think there’s a way to bolster it. After all, the question you’re raising is essentially: did the Council of Carthage recognize Ezra and Nehemiah as separate Books? If so, then when they referred to the “two Books of Ezra,” then they obviously meant Ezra and Nehemiah. If you look at the way that the early Christians, and particularly those early Christians who used the Greek version, spoke of it, it’s clear that they did, in fact, understand Ezra and Nehemiah to be two separate Books put together.

    To take the clearest example, Eusebius, in describing the canon used by Origen, said that it includedEsdras, First and Second in one, Ezra, that is, ‘An assistant.’” From his description, there’s no question that Eusebius is referring to Ezra and Nehemiah, the first two Books of Esdras (“Esdras B”). And we can tell from his testimony a few important things: (1) the two Books were called First and Second Esdras; (2) the two Books were sometimes grouped together as one; (3) despite being grouped together, Christians were still aware that they were really two separate Books. As an aside, many early Christian canons lumped the Twelve Minor Prophets together as one Book, but there’s no question that they had obviously separate authors.

    Now, Origen lived from about 182-253 A.D., and Eusebius lived from 263-339, both well before the Third Council of Carthage in 397. So it’s not as if this is some development centuries after Carthage. It’s common knowledge well before. To take more examples, Athanasius’ canon (367 A.D.) notes “Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book.” And Cyril of Jerusalem: “the first and second of Esdras are counted one.” And even the dubious Canon LX of the Council of Laodicea numbers the two Books of Esdras as a single Book.

    So I think that there’s a wealth of evidence that the early Christians realized that Ezra and Nehemiah, or First and Second Esdras, were two separate Books, despite being generally grouped as one. Given that, it seems safe to conclude that when Carthage refers to First and Second Esdras, it seems plain that they mean the same thing as Eusebius — those canonical Books we now call Ezra and Nehemiah.

    This conclusion not only comports with the other Patristic evidence, but it avoids the pratfalls of the opposite conclusion, that the Church could create a canon and then somehow just forget about one of the canonical Books without anyone noticing.

    I’m thrilled to hear you’re whistling towards Catholicism, and if there’s anything I can do to help you along in that process, I’m at your disposal.

    God bless,


  16. Dear Joe, Thank you so much for acknowledging my simplistic “argument” for the Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture.

    I just wanted to add a few more other “common sense” reasons that I have been graced to learn.

    If one looks at the order of the Protestant Bible and the Hebrew Bible, you will find the same books which are called inspired.
    However, you might notice that the order of the Books are nothing alike. The Protestant O.T. and N.T. is in the same order as the Catholic Bible, therefore showing that the “Reformers” used the Catholic Bible that had been known by all for centuries and took out the books they “decided were not sacred writ”.

    Also, as regards all of the arguments of different Councils and different disagreements among the Church Fathers as to what Sacred Text should be included in the Canon (which is the rule or in the Tradition of the Apostles) – the Protestant mindset is contrary to what was then held by Christians.

    The Church – The One Kingdom of God/Heaven on Earth was not then nor ever a DEMOCRACY. Christ is The King of Kings and Lord of Lords and HE doesn’t need our opinion or disputes on “doctrine”.

    As such, it doesn’t matter what different Church Father’s opinions were, i.e. St. Jerome. It matters what was decided by all as led by the Holy Spirit.

    One last thought – Just like the Pharisees, Our Lord believed in the Resurrection of the dead (unlike the party of the Sadducees).

    Where do you find in the Sacred Scriptures of the O.T. talk of the “resurrection of the dead” explained and not in a prophetic way?

    Correct me if I am wrong please, but the prophecy of the Messiah never mentions or alludes to a death and resurrection from the dead. It may speak of the “Messiah being cut off” in Daniel, but the Jewish people did not believe in a Messiah that would be the “first-born from the dead”.

    The Book of the Maccabees speaks clearly of the Resurrection of the Dead, hence prayers for the dead and Luther’s hatred of it. The selling of indulgences was not right.

    However, the proverbial “throwing the baby out with the bath water” was not Luther’s to decide, nor Calvin, nor Zwingli, etc. Neither was the throwing out of the epistle of St. James, Hebrews, St. Jude and The Book of Revelations because Luther was clearly an anti-semite and thought these books did not fit with his “new doctrine of Justification by faith alone”

    The Church – which is always One as The Father and Christ are One – is Our Lord’s kingdom on earth and His promises that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it, is in HIS hands to keep. HE will discipline, reprove, reform, as HE will, but it is HIS alone.

    The “Reformers” showed all too quickly that they are not the “True, Holy, Apostolic Church that is One”. They began dividing and multiplying at once.

    The Roman Catholic Church still stands and others are continually dividing. Common sense says that the “binding and loosening authority given by Christ” is active in One Church only.

    If you disagree and leave or are excommunicated, you can not go down the street and find another Catholic Church to become a member of that is more to your liking in it’s interpretation of Sacred Scripture.

    Pax Vobiscum

  17. Very well said, Teresa. There are various points in which the Resurrection is hinted at in the Old Testament – for example, Abraham & Isaac (on the third day, Abraham discovers that Isaac doesn’t have to die, because God will provide a Sacrifice), Jonah & the whale (the Sign of Jonah referred to by Christ), etc. But none of these were so obvious that a pre-Christian audience would have been expecting a Resurrection.

    What does Luther’s having been an anti-Semite have to do with his tossing Books out of the Bible?

    Your last point, that “If you disagree and leave or are excommunicated, you can not go down the street and find another Catholic Church to become a member of that is more to your liking in it’s interpretation of Sacred Scripture” is very good, and I wish more people understood it. In the early Church, when there were heresies, the heretics didn’t say, “Well, we’ll start First Nestorian Church down the street.” They fought it out inside the Church — at least until they lost.

    God bless,


  18. I love your analogy on starting “The First Nestorian Church” down the street!

    I am sorry I didn’t explain myself about Luther, i.e. “antisemitic”

    I was looking for the place I had read this from a Catholic theologian but cannot find it. I may have heard it in a lecture. However, since Luther felt that St. James refuted his “justification by faith alone” as well as the others (Hebrews, Jude, Revelation)he had them removed from his German translation of The Bible and as you know, he added the word “alone” at other places in Sacred Scripture where the word “faith” was found.

    Bottom line, he felt comfortable not only in taking out O.T. Sacred Writings, but New Testament as well, and even adding his own words. So, again, just as with each of the Reformers you have “solo scriptura according to Dr. Luther” or John Calvin instead of “sola scriptura”.

    Luther flip-flopped quite a bit over many things, however towards the later years of his life, he equated the Jewish people with the hated idea of “Works of The Law” instead of believing in Jesus through faith alone.

    His horrible writings against the Jews were almost like “sacred writings” since he had become “the German Pope” for some.

    You will know a tree by it’s fruit Our Lord says plainly. The works of Luther have been attributed to Hitler’s hatred of Jews and from there we see the rotten fruit of killing and the nightmare of the Holocaust.

    This is just a link I ran across because I couldn’t find my other source. Luther was the beginning of the “Protestant Reformation” and besides the splintering into 33,000 denominations who practice “sola scriptura”, they cannot agree on the plain meaning of scripture (even without the books that Luther pulled out!)

    The Catholic Reformation (of errors that were not doctrine) did stand and the Church became stronger for it, not divided into splintering pieces, because Christ’s body cannot be pulled into parts.

    Can a rotten tree bear good fruit?

    Peace and grace be with you, Joe

  19. I never could understand how anyone could choose the Jewish canon as prescriptive for the Church. In the first place, the Synagogue has no authority in the Church regarding doctrine, and secondly, how could the 1st. century Rabbis recognize the Word of God in a book, when they couldn’t recognize the Word of God when he walked among them as a living person?

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