Why do Catholics and the Orthodox have different Biblical canons?

The difference (according to Wikipedia) being the following books:

Synod of Jerusalem:

  • 1 Esdras (see Esdras for other names)
    • 3 Maccabees
    • 4 Maccabees (in appendix but not canonical)
    • Prayer of Manasseh
    • Psalm 151

Included by Russian and Ethiopian Orthodox:

* 2 Esdras

Included by Ethiopian Orthodox:

* Jubilees
* Enoch
* 1–3 Meqabyan

This is something I’ve wondered for some time. It seems to get a lot less coverage compared to the Protestant-Catholic canon differences. I suppose that my question might depend on which orthodox we’re talking about.
Other related questions:
Which books were in the Septuagint?
Which books were in the Vulgate?
Which books considered apocryphal were added as an appendix to any official canons?
Which councils were most important for the determination of the canon is the East and/or West?

Does anybody know a good book that would cover the history behind any of these questions? Thanks for your help!

I think there are two main reasons why the differences between the Catholic and Orthodox canons don’t receive the same airplay as the differences between the Protestant and Catholic. First we live in the Western world and most people in America are practically clueless about Orthodoxy. Second, and more fundamentally, neither the Orthodox or Catholic Churches rely on Holy Scripture as the sole source of doctrine as the Protestants do. Since Scripture is a reflection of Tradition discrepancies in canons are not that important.

Yours in Christ

i agree with the second poster and would like to add that the orthodox church broke away from the catholic church so when the bible structure was decided around the 13th century i think each church picked different books to consider as the canon of faith.

Dear brother bostonboy23,

I would like to offer two brotherly corrections:

First of all, each church had their share of blame in the schism.

Secondly, the Latin and Eastern Churches lived in unity with different canons long before the schism. The Latin OT Canon was finalized in the 4th century, not the thirteenth, and the Eastern OT Canon has generally been the Septuagint, which has been in existence since before Christ.

Brother josephdaniel writes truly about the primacy of Tradition among the apostolic Churches, of which Scripture is a part.


i’m not blaming anyone for what happened I was just stating facts as I knew them to be. Part of the reason there was a breakaway was the ortodox church didn’t like how the holy sea was running things they didn’t believe that the pope is infailible.

Here is a good pdf file that compares the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant canons.

Yea I agree with you On Christmas I had a interesting discussion on “religion” with my baptist uncle and he told me that he didnt know there was a difference between Orthodox and Catholic he thought they were the same. Then again his sense of humor is overly subtle at times so I dont know if he was serious.

He was probably being serious. Many Protestants and even sometimes Catholics, like Alex Jones, think that the Orthodox Churches are simply part of the Catholic Church in the East.

Catholic and Orthodox do have much in common so it makes sense that to an undescerning eye may think that we are part of the same Church. We share the same Apostolic roots, the same 7 Ecumenical Councils, the love of the Theotokos, the similar beliefs regarding the Mysteries…

Yeshua is the word of God.

Another question: Sometimes Catholics, when describing the difference between the Protestant and Catholic canons will describe the Septuagint as having “all of the books that protestants would recognize, plus seven more, plus editions to Daniel and Esther.”
Isn’t this wrong, or at least misleading? Didn’t the Septuagint contain several more books not considered canonical by Protestants, Catholics, and even many Orthodox? Perhaps those people are just ignorant or simplifying? Or is there more than one version of the Septuagint? Does anybody know how the Church differentiated between inspired and non-inspired books from the Septuagint?

Not to stir up animosity, but I am curious!

I didn’t know they were that different either. I thought there were 7 dogma between the two Churches that are different, and beyond that, I was told, everything else is the same in teaching and theology. I used to work in a store and I was the only Catholic, The rest were all eastern orthodox and, I dunno, we all seemed the same. I had never been to an Orthodox Mass before, but the Orthodox told me it was the same as the Catholic Mass and they had been to both. They all read the Bible (and I’m sure it didn’t occur to any of us to ask if it was the same bible??), we all prayed the Rosary. I thought we were almost the same.

The only differences (aside from the 7 dogma that I was told about) is that they spoke a different language in their Masses than English. And we could participate in almost all of each others Sacraments.

I went to a Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago YEARS AGO. I’m not sure many people remember this, but a picture of Our Lady was crying and Catholics and Orthodox alike flocked there. When my family, friends and I went up to the alter (kneelers in front of the picture) to pray, the priest annointed us with the tears and treated us like we were anyone else in the congregation. Maybe 15 years ago? Maybe?

I have to say though, it felt just as “right” there as my own Churches. Is that a bad thing?

Divine Liturgy and Catholic Mass are two very different experiences. There are some basic similarities though, like for instance we have Reading of Sacred Scripture and the celebration of the Eucharist.

Glad you had a positive experience in visiting a Greek Orthodox Church ! :slight_smile:

This is where you are mistaken. First, to be clear, these were Eastern Catholic churches as well as being orthodox (in other words there was no difference at the time, and in fact the Orthodox have changed very little since).

The Holy See (by which we know you must mean the bishop of Rome, but they are in fact all holy Sees) was not ‘running’ things at the time. This was still a developing idea in the west about the role and function of the bishop of the city of Rome.

The Gregorian Reformation (which was to launch many changes in the role and function of the Papacy) had barely begun when Cardinals Humbert and Frederic went to the East. The Gregorian reforms were to continue in the west for several decades. Up until this point, the ‘Pope’ was not running anything in the east. The bishops of Rome had a limited involvement in the eastern churches which usually manifested when the man was invited or asked for his opinion (which was respected). He had no administrative function in the east.

In other words for the eastern churches he did not hire/fire bishops, erect dioceses, establish missions, regulate liturgies, write canons, canonize saints, publish/approve catechisms, call councils, approve the foundation of religious orders, etc. He was not “running things”.

In many parts of the western church the Pope’s authority was also limited even beyond the tenth century, but that was to change later.

So when someone says the “ortodox church didn’t like how the holy sea was running things”, there is a likelihood that these people (you are not alone in this idea) are projecting back in time a modern form of Papacy that did not exist then.

What might reasonably be said (and I would not basically argue with) is that some new ideas about the Papacy, the role of the Pope, were emerging in Italy at the time and the eastern orthodox Catholic churches were not in agreement with them.

If the Cardinals Humbert and Frederic were rebuffed for trying to impose this new authority in the east, they were rebuffed precisely because these were new ideas to the east. In other words, the Popes had never before “run” things in the east, although they appear to do so today in the Latin and eastern Catholic churches.

I am originally from Chicago, and I believe you may be referring to the Weeping Icon of the Holy Theotokos at St George’s Antiochian Orthodox church in Cicero, IL.

(I have been there since becoming Orthodox, the last time about three years ago.)

The icon wept tears in 1994, they had a fire in 1997, the icon was saved.

  1. Neither did many Latin Catholics before Vatican 1. In fact, there were official catechisms that denied the idea of Papal Infallibility.

  2. The term is spelled “Holy See”. Notice the capitals.

  3. And actually, Rome broke away from Orthodoxy.

Seems that there was a myrrh-streaming Icon of the Theotokos in an Albanian Orthodox Church, too.

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