When choosing a Bible, one faces a wide array of choices. Often the question is heard, “Is it a Catholic or a Protestant Bible?” This question isn’t usually about the translation per se, or who the editors were. Usually it’s about how many– and which — books are included.
The Bible is a collection of writings written, edited, compiled, copied, and passed on over a period of thousands of years. It’s worth noting that we don’t have the original manuscripts of any of it. And over the course of the centuries, there has periodically been controversy over which texts should be included, and which should be left out.
The primary differences on this level, between Catholic and Protestant Bibles, lie in the Old Testament. Containing the texts of the Hebrew Bible, it’s worth noting that until the Council of Jamnia in AD 92, there was no single canonical list of Jewish scriptures, and even after that some sects, like the Essenes, disagreed with the Council’s list.
The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches base their versions of the Old Testament on Greek version called the Septuagint. This version contains books that were of later origin and acceptance, which since the 16th Century we have referred to as “deuterocanonical.” These books include Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and parts of Esther and Daniel. Catholic Bibles include these in the Old Testament; many Protestant Bible versions either leave them out, or sequester them between the Old and New Testaments, labeled “apocrypha.” In Catholic circles, the word apocrypha refers to books that were never included in the canon, like the gnostic “gospels.”
Our current canon of the scriptures was solidified during the Reformation and Counter-reformation. The Council of Trent re-affirmed the decisions of 5th century ecumenical Councils, while the protestant reformers rejected the deuterocanonical books for historical reasons, or because they seemed to contradict the reformers’ theological stance.