I’m trying to compile the History of the Bible, at least the Christian recognition of what was inspired and what wasn’t in the Old Testament. I‘ll neglect the question of who had the authority to chose what books went where, as that is not the point. I have a question:

What version of the Old Testament did the Early Church recognize as inspired, as in what Jewish canon did they trust to Remove or keep in the Septuagint? From that, when were books from the Septuagint removed from Western Bibles and for what reason, I already know the East kept the whole Septuagint because they aren’t as legalistic and let local tradition mostly rule, but when did the west do away with 3 and 4 Maccabees, 1 and 2 Esdras, and others? Most importantly, why?

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    Hello and welcome to the site! Each of these questions is important enough that it deserves to be asked by itself. Please split this up into separate questions, each one asking one thing. – curiousdannii Dec 29 '20 at 1:15
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    Thanks! I edited the title to be clearer and added some tags. – curiousdannii Dec 29 '20 at 1:30
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    Thank you helpful mod! – BigRob Dec 29 '20 at 2:31
  • A 22 page paper in Harvard Theological Review, The Old Testament of the Early Church (A Study in Canon), provides excellent background for your question, though published in 1958 precluded it from taking advantage of the (by now) the full implication of the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls. The paper includes very helpful discussion of pre and post AD 70 deliberation by early Judaism to set their own canon, which in turn heavily influenced the early church fathers. See also a bibliography about OT Canon. – GratefulDisciple Dec 31 '20 at 13:44

The earliest Old Testament canon is mentioned by Josephus circa 95CE, as well as the reason why they considered it "from God". From there, it's history is shown by Melito of Sardis circa 175CE. These earliest canons never included what came to be called the apocrypha.


Although he does not name specific books, it is quite clear to which 22 he refers. He also speaks of a valid prophetic line for their acceptance and not others. This, of course, is mentioned by Christ (Mat 11:13, Luke 16:16, Luke 24:44).

  1. “We have not, therefore, a multitude of books disagreeing and conflicting with one another; but we have only twenty-two, which contain the record of all time and are justly held to be divine.
  1. Of these, five are by Moses, and contain the laws and the tradition respecting the origin of man, and continue the history down to his own death. This period embraces nearly three thousand years.
  1. From the death of Moses to the death of Artaxerxes, who succeeded Xerxes as king of Persia, the prophets that followed Moses wrote the history of their own times in thirteen books. The other four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the regulation of the life of men.
  1. From the time of Artaxerxes to our own day all the events have been recorded, but the accounts are not worthy of the same confidence that we repose in those which preceded them, because there has not been during this time an exact succession of prophets. -Josephus, Against Apion-

He is very clear about which books they considered "God breathed", meaning the valid prophetic line.


For more context on Melito, "Melito may have been the immediate successor of the "angel" (or "apostle") of the church of Sardis, to whom our Great High Priest addressed one of the apocalyptic messages. He was an "Apostolic Father" in point of fact; he very probably knew the blessed Polycarp and his disciple Irenaeus. He is justly revered for the diligence with which he sought out the evidence which, in his day, established the Canon of the Old Testament, then just complete." see here.

As quoted by Eusebius; emphasis mine.

  1. Accordingly when I [Melito] went East and came to the place where these things were preached and done, I learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, and send them to thee as written below. Their names are as follows: Of Moses, five books: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus,1310 Deuteronomy; Jesus Nave, Judges, Ruth; of Kings, four books; of Chronicles, two; the Psalms of David,1311 the Proverbs of Solomon, Wisdom also,1312 Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job; of Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah; of the twelve prophets, one book1313; Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras.1314 From which also I have made the extracts, dividing them into six books.” Such are the words of Melito. -Eusebius, Church History-

As quoted elsewhere.

I accordingly proceeded to the East, and went to the very spot where the things in question were preached and took place; and, having made myself accurately acquainted with the books of the Old Testament, I have set them down below, and herewith send you the list. Their names are as follows:—

The five books of Moses—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Joshua,3623 Judges, Ruth, the four books of Kings, the two of Chronicles, the book of the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon, also called the Book of Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Job, the books of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, of the twelve contained in a single book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras. From these I have made my extracts, dividing them into six books. -Book of Extracts-

This canon is the same as the Protestant canon, sans Esther. Some would argue, however, that Esther was also part of the one book "Esdras" (Ezra, Nehemia). Or it was a mere oversight as he mentions Esther elsewhere. See the links for more.


Jerome is an interesting figure in the history of the canon of Scripture. He wrote circa 400.

Preface to the Books of the Kings. Circa A.D. 391. This preface, also known as the Prologus Galeatus, "Helmeted Preface," was written by Jerome about the year 391. In it he maintains that, for the Old Testament, only the Hebrew books traditionally regarded as Holy Scripture by the Jews are canonical, and the extra books of the Septuagint "are not in the canon." -Source-

This link will also provide more information on the canon. As noted in the comments, the definition of "early" is an interesting one. I try to find the earliest references and see what is said.

Justin Martyr

He wrote about 140 and taught in Rome. This is his confirmation of what Josephus and Melito had said about the prophetic line and authentic Scripture.

There were, then, among the Jews certain men who were prophets of God, through whom the prophetic Spirit published beforehand things that were to come to pass, ere ever they happened. ... And He was predicted before He appeared, first 5000 years before, and again 3000, then 2000, then 1000, and yet again 800; for in the succession of generations prophets after prophets arose. First Apology, Chapter XXXI


So, which OT canon did the early church recognize? The answer is it recognized what the Protestants recognize for the same reason.

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    Do not think Josephus was a member of the Early Church! – Ken Graham Dec 29 '20 at 15:33
  • There is controversy whether Josephus was a Christian or not. See Josephus on Jesus-wikipedia, etc. The point, however, is to provide context for Melito's canon. Melito was bishop of Sardis. I've added a link. Additionally, the OP asks for the reason why this canon and not another were used. Josephus provides the answer (valid prophetic line). Even Macabees tells us it is not "God breathed" for the same reason and thus not accepted as from God in their and Protestant canon. – SLM Dec 29 '20 at 16:02
  • also, lets not forget that the canon was not set in concrete. Catholics are not protestants...so to say, the early church recognised what "protestants recognise" might be a little bit misleading. Increasingly throughout the middle ages protestants began to diverge from the early accepted canon content. – Adam Dec 30 '20 at 0:14
  • This post seems suspiciously one-sided. The Council of Rome in 382 CE affirmed a Roman Catholic OT canon, and according to Jerome, the Council of Nicea included the deuterocanonical book of Judith (which means they almost certainly would have included other deuterocanonical books as well). And that's just what I know off the top of my head. – Saurabh Agrawal Jan 2 at 13:52
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    @SLM I'm not throwing around accusations, but only expressing a concern that the answer may be one-sided. If you're wanting to know about the Council of Rome, the wikipedia entry has the text of the relevant portion of the decree containing the OT canon. As for Jerome, his discussion of Judith is available here: tertullian.org/fathers/jerome_preface_judith_e.htm – Saurabh Agrawal Jan 2 at 19:12

Which canon did the Early Church recognize?

I will start with Church canons of the New Testament.

Our modern biblical canon was more or less finalized in 350 at Jerusalem by Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem. Prior to that Both Irenaeus (in 160) and Origen (early 3rd century) had their own lists.

A four gospel canon (the Tetramorph) was in place by the time of Irenaeus, c. 160, who refers to it directly. By the early 200s, Origen may have been using the same 27 books as in the modern New Testament, though there were still disputes over the canonicity of Hebrews, James, II Peter, II and III John, and Revelation. Likewise, by 200 C.E., the Muratorian fragment shows that there existed a set of Christian writings somewhat similar to what is now the New Testament, which included the four gospels and argued against objections to them. Thus, while there was a good measure of debate in the Early Church over the New Testament canon, there were also precedents for the current canon dating back to the second century.

The canonical Christian Bible was formally established by Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem in 350 C.E., confirmed by the Council of Laodicea in 363 C.E., and later established by Athanasius of Alexandria in 367 C.E. In his Easter letter of 367 C.E., Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gave a list of exactly the same books as what would become the New Testament canon, and he used the word "canonized" (kanonizomena) in regards to them. The African Synod of Hippo, in 393 C.E., approved the New Testament, as it stands today, together with the Septuagint books, a decision that was repeated by Councils of Carthage in 397 C.E. and 419 C.E. These councils were under the authority of Augustine of Hippo, who regarded the canon as already closed. Pope Damasus I's Council of Rome in 382 C.E., if the Decretum Gelasianum is correctly associated with it, issued a biblical canon identical to that mentioned above, or if not the list is at least a sixth century compilation. Likewise, Damasus's commissioning of the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible, c. 383, was instrumental in the fixation of the canon in the West. In 405, Pope Innocent I sent a list of the sacred books to a Gallic bishop, Exsuperius of Toulouse. When these bishops and councils spoke on the matter, however, they were not defining something new, but instead "were ratifying what had already become the mind of the Church." Thus, from the fourth century, there existed unanimity in the West concerning the New Testament canon (as it is today), and by the fifth century the East, Eastern Orthodoxy with a few exceptions, had come to accept the Book of Revelation and thus had come into harmony on the matter of the canon. Nonetheless, a full dogmatic articulation of the canon was not made until the Council of Trent of 1546 for Roman Catholicism, the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 for the Church of England, the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 for Calvinism, and the Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 for the Greek Orthodox. - Biblical canon

As for the Old Testament, the 4th century saw the Biblical canon set in the West.

For mainstream Pauline Christianity (growing from proto-orthodox Christianity in pre-Nicene times) which books constituted the Christian biblical canons of both the Old and New Testament was generally established by the 5th century, despite some scholarly disagreements, for the ancient undivided Church (the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, before the East–West Schism). The Catholic canon was set at the Council of Rome (382), the same Council commissioned Jerome to compile and translate those canonical texts into the Latin Vulgate Bible. In the wake of the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent (1546) affirmed the Vulgate as the official Catholic Bible in order to address changes Martin Luther made in his recently completed German translation which was based on the Hebrew language Tanakh in addition to the original Greek of the component texts. The canons of the Church of England and English Presbyterians were decided definitively by the Thirty-Nine Articles (1563) and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), respectively. The Synod of Jerusalem (1672) established additional canons that are widely accepted throughout the Orthodox Church.

Various forms of Jewish Christianity persisted until around the fifth century, and canonicalized very different sets of books, including Jewish–Christian gospels which have been lost to history. These and many other works are classified as New Testament apocrypha by Pauline denominations.

The Old and New Testament canons did not develop independently of each other and most primary sources for the canon specify both Old and New Testament books. For the biblical scripture for both Testaments, canonically accepted in major traditions of Christendom, see Biblical canon § Canons of various Christian traditions.

Council of Trent

In light of Martin Luther's demands, the Council of Trent on 8 April 1546 approved the present Catholic Bible canon, which includes the Deuterocanonical Books, and the decision was confirmed by an anathema by vote (24 yea, 15 nay, 16 abstain). The council confirming the same list as produced at the Council of Florence in 1442, Augustine's 397-419 Councils of Carthage, and probably Damasus' 382 Council of Rome. The Old Testament books that had been rejected by Luther were later termed deuterocanonical, not indicating a lesser degree of inspiration, but a later time of final approval. Beyond these books, the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate contained in the Appendix several books considered as apocryphal by the council: Prayer of Manasseh, 3 Esdras, and 4 Esdras. - Biblical canon

The reason why for both Orthodox and Catholic Churches is quite simple: They are believed to be Divinely inspired by God!


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