Peer-reviewed explanation of Luther’s canon?


I’m trying to locate a peer-reviewed scholarly article or book that explain Luther’s Canon and or why he removed and or advocated the removal of certain texts from the Bible.

When I search I only come up with blog posts or forum questions. I’d like something more rigorous than that.

If anyone can help that would be appreciated!



While it is true that he had his eyes several books; he only segregated those “deuterocanonicals.” Yet, the very first King James Bible (1611) Contained all of the 73 Books; it was after several printings that they were removed:

The King James Version (KJV), also known as the King James Bible (KJB) or simply the Authorized Version (AV), is an English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England, begun in 1604 and completed in 1611. (

Although the term apocrypha had been in use since the 5th century, it was in Luther’s Bible of 1534 that the Apocrypha was first published as a separate intertestamental section.[3] To this date, the Apocrypha is “included in the lectionaries of Anglican and Lutheran Churches.”[4] Moreover, the Revised Common Lectionary, in use by most mainline Protestants including Methodists and Moravians, lists readings from the Apocrypha in the liturgical kalendar, although alternate Old Testament scripture lessons are provided. (

King James I at the Hampton Court Conference
“Dr. Reynolds…insisted boldly on various points ; but when he came to the demand for the disuse of the apocrypha in the church service James could bear it no longer. He called for a Bible, read a chapter out of Ecclesiasticus, and expounded it according to his own views ; then turning to the lords of his council, he said, " What trow ye makes these men so angry with Ecclesiasticus ? By my soul, I think Ecclesiasticus was a bishop, or they would never use him so.” (

Finally, from a Catholic perspective:

The canon of Scripture is the list of 73 books that belong to the Bible. (The word “Bible” means “the Book.”) The earliest writings of the Bible were likely composed in the 10th century B.C. The writing of Scripture continued until the first century A.D., when Revelation was complete…
In the 16th century, Martin Luther adopted the Jewish list, putting the Deuterocanonical books in an appendix. He also put the letter of James, the letter to the Hebrews, the letters of John, and the book of Revelation from the New Testament in an appendix. He did this for doctrinal reasons (for example: 2 Maccabees 12:43-46 supports the doctrine of purgatory, Hebrews supports the existence of the priesthood, and James 2:24 supports the Catholic doctrine on merit). Later Lutherans followed Luther’s Old Testament list and rejected the Deuterocanonical books, but they did not follow his rejection of the New Testament books.
Finally, in 1546, the Council of Trent reaffirmed the traditional list of the Catholic Church. (

I hope this helps.

Maran atha!



I would also like some solid sources for Luther’s decision to edit the Canon, and it’s never sat well with me that the general consensus is he was trying to justify his own interpretations and his split from the Church. It may well be the case but, I could use some sources.


Considering how consequential an act it was, I am really surprised there doesn’t appear to be much scholarship on this issue.


I like to believe it’s out there, I just haven’t found much that’s not overtly biased one way or the other. I mean, it wouldn’t make a difference for me, I’ll be Catholic either way. But I like to know the details and I don’t usually accept answers that are the equivelant of, “He didn’t like it so he changed it.” Too simplistic.


The online Jewish Encyclopedia is very old – it’s the 1906 edition – but the entry for “Bible Canon” (link below) goes into considerable detail about the history of the selection process. What it doesn’t tell us, of course, is what Luther’s reasons were for following the Jewish lead and excluding the OT books that were not in the Jewish canon.


You won’t find much that isn’t tipped with modern anachronisms.

Because at the time, it was, frankly, inconsequential. We have to keep in mind the concept of putting all Scriptures together under one binding was still relatively new. Movable type was only just invented! Other Catholics in that era also sided with Luther on the canon, including Erasmus, and Cardinal Cajetan – neither of whom was a fan of Luther, to put it mildly!

Prior to Trent, it was common for Catholics to take “Jerome’s stance” on the canon. This was not in any way thought heretical or even the slightest bit odd or offensive. The canon had been viewed in a sort of fluid way – not that books would come and go, to be sure, but that they would have varying degrees of authority based on authorship, proximity to the apostles, acceptance within the wider church catholic, etc.

For example, the Gospels were all accepted by the early church on these grounds. We call these homologoumena; they were agreed-upon. This is why the early church uniformly rejected spurious gnostic gospels.

Some books, like Revelation, James, Hebrews were “spoken against” by members of the early church – James even had the “h-word” (heretical) occasionally tossed at it. These books were called antilegomena. They were understood by some to be inspired, and by others to not. So the church generally used them to confirm doctrine, but not draw doctrine from exclusively.

At Trent, we see a shift. The canon is no longer merely a rule by which to confirm the faith, but now viewed as a necessary table of contents, and anyone who disagrees is anathema. This was no light change. The votes to confirm the ‘Table of Contents’ under pain of anathema were very close: 24 to 15, with 16(!) abstensions. That’s right. Just 9 votes decided to close the canon. It could have easily gone another way. It must also be noted that Luther was dead when Trent closed the Roman Catholic canon.


It is just silly and historically false to accuse Luther of “removing books from the Bible.” His translation of the bible contained 74 books (that’s 1 more than modern RC bibles, as he included the Prayer of Manasseh). His decision to move some Deuterocanonical and antilegomena books into an appendix within the bible was common practice by some Catholics in his time, and is no different than how some Catholic bibles even today switch around the order! (Compare the table of contents of an NAB to a DR or a CCB-- and those are just English translations!) It should also be noted that he openly states that he does not think ill of anyone who should count those books as inspired - it was simply his personal opinion, which he was entitled to as an educated Catholic of his day, that they were not. Wasn’t a church-dividing issue then.

The narrative that Luther ‘removed’ books to suit his theological whims is simply anachronistic; it’s an anti-Lutheran polemic that’s been built over the centuries that’s simply not based in fact. Lutheran bibles contained 73 or 74 books until WWI in America, when the mostly-German-speaking Lutherans wanted to fit in more with their suspicious (mostly-Reformed) neighbors. So they began worshiping in English and using English bibles – which, by then, were mostly 66 books. Lutherans in Europe generally still use a 73 or 74-book bible, because they never had to worry about “looking too Catholic” like Americans did.

Finally, to this day there is no defined canon within Lutheranism. Lutherans are free to use an Orthodox canon of 80+, the traditional Lutheran canon of 73 or 74, the “Protestant” canon of 66 rightly-understood, and numbers in between, just as pre-Trent Catholics did.



Thank you for the extended discussion.


Into a non-inspired appendix! It’s interesting that you forgot to mention that he completely removed the portions of Esther and Daniel that were written in Greek!

Catholics having personal opinions regarding certain books, and Luther removing books from the canon of inspired books into a non-inspired appendix is not a comparison!

Agreed! However, he still took inspired books and put them into a non-inspired appendix.

So, then, when implementing ‘Sola Scriptura’, how do Lutherans use Scripture as the ultimate, sole, and final norm for promulgating doctrine if there is ‘no defined canon within Lutheranism’?!


Go start a thread. You needn’t hijack every conceivable thread in your crusade against Lutheranism.


What do you mean ‘forgot to mention?’ Don’t make me out to be some half-truth-telling liar. Those sections are included in the spoken-against works I noted above. They had always been known by the church to be questionable. This is why the Jews did not have them in their canon. Heck, the fact that they were written in Greek and not Hebrew is a dead giveaway that they were written centuries later.

Luther, in his response to Erasmus, who had not unlike you, unfairly chided him for not conisdering these bits inspired:

Though I might with justice repudiate this book [Ecclesiasticus], yet for the present I receive it, so as not to lose time by entangling myself in a dispute about books received into the Jewish canon. You are somewhat biting and derisive yourself about that canon, when you compare the Proverbs of Solomon and the Love-song (as with a sneering innuendo you term it) to the two books of Esdras and Judith, and the History of Susanna and of the Dragon, and the book of Esther (though they have this last in their canon; in my opinion, however, it is less worthy to be held canonical than any of these).

Luther didn’t care how they were counted, but how they were used. They clearly were not written with the rest of Scripture, so cannot be used as the sole determinants for doctrine. Otherwise, go ahead and enjoy these useful writings.


You are most welcome. I hope it gives you a good jumping point for your research.

I very strongly suggest starting with the link I gave above. It gives a sound starting point for what Luther actually thought of the bible, which is not what many modern-day Roman Catholics nor Protestants would like folks to think.


And, the Jews do not have one NT book in their canon, so what is your point? May I ask how Lutherans, considering there is no ‘defined canon’ for them, came to the exact same number of books to use for the NT as do Catholics?


You see, this is just one of same tactics that was proposed to me when I started to question Lutheranism. I would ask my pastor very logical, sound-minded questions, and, when he could not answer them, he would either ignore them and/or seem to get frustrated. Does it not appeal to your conscience, just slightly, that you have to provide an answer such as:

Is this not a deliberate cop-out to a perfectly logical question posed to you? I don’t mean to sound abrasive, but wouldn’t you want to be able to have a logical solution to any seeming inconsistency within your ecclesial community?


I have not dismissed your question. I invited you to start a thread, because your question is so off-topic from the OP. I would love nothing more than an opportunity to openly explain Lutheran hermeneutical and exegetical processes. But that is not the subject of the thread, and I try to be as respectful to the OP as possible. That’s why I don’t endorse hijacking threads, especially to feed a recent convert’s need to self-justify his actions.

That you took my invitation as a dismissal speaks volumes about your own personal anti-Lutheran prejudices.

I deserve your apology, but something tells me I shouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it.


I too would like to see a response to this inconsistency! Is the canon used then is what seem to be the fad of the moment?


Apparently, this is off-topic and needs to be discussed on a different thread. :zipper_mouth_face:


That the people who had safeguarded Esther and Daniel (remember, the OT books you brought up?) for hundreds of years noticed when someone tried to add new bits hundreds of years later in a different language?


I am a revert, not a convert. I was baptized by the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Outside of my control, after my parents divorced, I was forced to be confirmed Lutheran while being indoctrinated with anti-Catholic propaganda. When I was emancipated from my parents’ authority and could make a free, conscience choice as to what Church was founded by Our Blessed Lord, I reverted to that Catholic Church to Whom I was baptized.

I don’t need to ‘self-justify’ anything. If I did, I would go to Lutheran websites and participate in their forums! But, this is Catholic Answers, and when staunch Lutherans feed these forums with Lutheranism, I will do everything in my power to correct Luther’s errors for the benefit of souls!

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