What is the Protestant belief on how the canon of the Bible came?

Do they believe that the Catholic church (through the Council of Rome in 382, the regional councils of Hippo in 393 and Carthage in 397, and the Council of Florence in 1442) were involved when the canon was determined (mainly the New Testament)?

1 Answer 1


Generally, the Reformers accepted that the Holy Spirt worked through the church fathers and early church councils in the canonization process, as the Church had not yet, in their view, been corrupted. But their challenge to the authority of the Catholic Church did open the door to their wondering whether some of the biblical books were correctly included.

The primary example of this is the Protestant rejection of the full authority OT Apocrypha, which were accepted by the Council of Trent. Calvin directly criticized the Council for including the Apocrypha because he believed these works provided a basis for Catholic doctrines he opposed:

They provide themselves with new supports when they give full authority to the Apocryphal books. Out of the second of the Maccabees they will prove Purgatory and the worship of saints; out of Tobit satisfactions, exorcisms, and what not. From Ecclesiasticus they will borrow not a little. For from whence could they better draw their dregs?

Luther's attitude on this issue was less adamant than Calvin's. In his translation of the Bible, he included the Apocrypha. However, he did not place them as part of the OT, but in a separate collection between the OT and the NT. He said of them: "These books are not held equal to the Scriptures, but are useful and good to read."

In addition, Luther, based on his study of patristic attitudes, considered Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation to be "disputed books." He was particularly troubled by the Letter of James for its endorsement of what he considered to be works-righteousness. He called it "an epistle of straw." He did not, however, insist that these works be excluded.

So, while the Reformers generally accepted the NT biblical canon, they rejected the authority of the OT Apocrypha, and Luther questioned several NT writings as well. Eventually, Protestants accepted the entire NT canon as recognized in Catholic tradition, but they still take the Apocrypha with a grain of salt. Most Protestant bibles do not include them. The early Protestant leaders specifically rejected the findings of the Council of Trent on this issue.

I was unable to find specific references to the councils of Rome, Carthage and Hippo in the thought of the Reformers. Perhaps another answer will add more.

  • 3
    The Council of Trent simply reinforced the biblical canon of 382, set up by the Early Church. From this point in time until the Reformation, there was no dispute within the Church about the Biblical Canon. The Council of Trent simply retained the original Biblical Canon that the Early Church had established. Protestants can blame Trent for it, but it is not historically accurate.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 18:50
  • The Council of Trent was convoked a decade after Luther had completed his Bible (he continued to make minor adjustments but he had already decided on the status of the Apocrypha).
    – rjpond
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 19:09

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