What was the pre-Reformation understanding and how did that change during and after the Reformation Era for Protestants and for Catholics? What is the current position?

  • Since you are discussing the Catholic viewpoint, I think you need to allow for that portion of revelation contained in Tradition but not in the Scriptures. Limiting the Words of God to written Scripture is decidedly non-Catholic.
    – bradimus
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 16:59
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    I've never met a Protestant who dismissed, say, the Gospel of Matthew as it is written in a Catholic Bible just because the Book of Sirach is in the same volume; but perhaps I'm misunderstanding the question.
    – Wtrmute
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 17:16
  • With A and B you are distinguishing three ways of regarding books, they ARE the Word of God (high), they CONTAIN the Word of God (medium) and they are NOT at all the Word of God. (low). In A the Reformers went from 73 high to 66 high and 7 low. In B they went from 73 medium to 66 high and 7 medium. Simply put, did they reduce their view of the 7, or did they increase their view of the 66. Am I right? Then X is that RCs now regard all 73 high, Y is all medium and Z I don't get. Is this the sort of thing you are getting at?
    – davidlol
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 17:32
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    Hey @karma. In order for the most people to be able to understand the question (and thus be able to answer) you may need to edit the question and condense it into very concise points. For example, exchanging the models with a variable, such as 'is' vs. 'contains.' For me at least, it's not quite clear what is being asked/assumed. Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 18:05
  • @bradimus, actually I'm asking (1) the Catholic pov as soon as the 73 book Bible done (2) the "on going process" pov from the NON-Catholic which caused a 66 books Bible exist (3) the Catholic pov today to the 73 books Bible and to the 66 books Bible. I assume the answer of number (2) will be the same from the non-Catholic pov today - that's why I don't ask the non-Catholic pov today just like I ask the Catholic pov today in number (3).
    – karma
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 1:42

1 Answer 1


Current Position of the Roman Catholic Church

The current position of the Roman Catholic Church is given in Articles 135 and 138 of the Catechism.

  1. The Sacred Scriptures contain the Word of God and, because they are inspired, they are truly the Word of God.


138 The Church accepts and venerates as inspired the 46 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New.

So the Roman Catholic Church teaches that all 73 books contain the Word of God, and are the Word of God.

Pre-Reformation Position

The attitude of the Church to the 7 books, known as the Deutero-Canon, was that they weren't necessarily equal to the other 66. The Catholic Encyclopaedia has this to say:

In the Latin Church, all through the Middle Ages we find evidence of hesitation about the character of the deuterocanonicals. There is a current friendly to them, another one distinctly unfavourable to their authority and sacredness, while wavering between the two are a number of writers whose veneration for these books is tempered by some perplexity as to their exact standing, and among those we note St. Thomas Aquinas. Few are found to unequivocally acknowledge their canonicity.

They were certainly part of the Bible, but their status was somewhat doubtful in comparison to the rest. The Encyclopaedia goes on to say one reason was the prominence of Jerome's opinions in the Ordinary Gloss, the widely used medieval commentary. Richard Field , former Dean of Gloucester, wrotegiving a translation of part of the preface to this:

Many ... suppose that all those books bound up in the Bible are to be in like sort honoured and esteemed, not knowing how to put a difference between books canonical and not canonical.

There is a

great difference as there is between that which is certain and that which is doubtful.


they that are not canonical are very good and profitable but their authority is not reputed sufficient to prove the things that are questionable.

This is the point of view which educated persons in the middle ages read.

Reformation Era

During this period people ceased to regard the 7 books as of doubtful authority. They made their minds up. Protestants decided quite definitely that they are not authoritative, and Catholics (Council of Trent) decided quite definitely that they are. (Of course, each claimed to be merely reasserting ancient understandings.)

After the Reformation both Protestants and Catholics agreed that there were 73 books in the Bible. The difference was that Catholics held all alike and Protestants did not.

Luther, Calvin and King James etc. did not remove the books from the Bible. Luther collected them together in a separate section of the German Bible, a practice followed by the translators for King James (the First and Sixth). This was to assist readers in identifying inspired and uninspired parts of the Bible.

Subsequent to the Reformation

Many Protestants did as described in the first B> in the question. They decided rather than have a 73-book volume containing 66 books regarded as the inspired Word of God, and 7 books which were not the inspired word of God; that it would be better to have a volume consisting solely of the inspired Word of God. They started printing copies of the Bible which contained only the 66 inspired books. Almost all modern printings of the King James Bible, and most modern Protestant translations, leave out the 7 books altogether.

Summary, in the form of the Question

Pre=Reformation: We have 73 books but we're not all 100% sure about 7 of them.

Reformation Protestants: Actually, we are sure, the 7 definitely aren't inspired.

Counter-Reformation Catholics: Well, we're sure they definitely are.

Some Post-Reformation Protestants: Hey, wouldn't it be nice to have a book that just had the inspired Word of God.

Other Post-Reformation Protestants: good idea, yes, lets leave the 7 out.

Needless to say, like all history, it was much more complicated than this, but I hope this gives a general overview.

  • I choose your answer is acceptable, davidlol. Thank you very much. One I would like to know : "the Roman Catholic Church teaches that all 73 books (1) contain the Word of God, and (2) are the Word of God". As long as I've read in the internet, some Christian articles say that there is a difference between (1) and (2). The article said that the number (1) means (a) not all which is written in the Bible is the Word of God - while number (2) means (b) all which is written in the Bible is the Word of God. Is it the same also in the Catholic that number-1 means (a) and number-2 means (b) ?
    – karma
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 11:00
  • @karma Saying that the Bible contains the Word of God is sometimes used to say parts of it are the Word of God, and parts of it are not. This is not what is meant in the Catholic Catechism. Every bit of the Bible is inspired by God, it is His will that it should be in the Bible.. However the message God gives to the World, in the Bible, is contained within the Bible as a whole, to be understood and interpreted as a whole. That is my understanding of what the Catechism means by contains, but I could be wrong..
    – davidlol
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 17:55
  • "That is my understanding of what the Catechism means by contains, but I could be wrong". To me, this is interesting. Maybe I will make a new question regarding CCC 135 because I still can not figure out how is the "application". To me, I agree from the articles I read in the internet that (1) means (a) - (2) means (b). Therefore it really hard for me to understand when (1) and (2) used simultaneously. Thank you davidlol.
    – karma
    Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 2:14

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