Protestant Vs. Catholic Vs. Orthodox: Differences and Similarities

The Christian world adopted the Jewish Bible as part of its canon under the name Old Testament. However, there are variances between the canons of the different Christian denominations and occasionally within the canons of a single denomination. In this episode, we will explore the different canons of the Old Testament within the major Christian denominations namely: Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy. 

 Across all Christian denominations, the first five books constitute the Torah or Pentateuch attributed to Moses the Prophet. These books are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Variations occur in subsequent sections of the Old Testament whether in terms of books included in the canon or the order thereof. 

The second section of the Old Testament canon of the largest Christian denomination, namely Roman Catholicism, is known as Histories. It includes the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, 1 and 2 Maccabees. The books of Tobit, Judith and 1 and 2 Maccabees do not constitute part of today’s Jewish Bible. They are perceived by Jews as useful literature rather than scriptural books. The third section known as Poetical or Wisdom books includes Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach. The last two books, namely Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach, are not parts of today’s Jewish Bible. The fourth and final section is known as Prophets which includes Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Baruch, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The only book in this section not found in the Jewish Bible is that of Baruch. Thus far, all the books included in the Catholic canon of the Old Testament and not found in the Jewish Bible have been part of the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible. Whereas Catholics included them in their canon, Jews were content with considering them as useful literature rather than scripture.[1]   

The second section of the Protestant canon is known as histories. This section includes Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. The third section known as Poetical, or Wisdom books include Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. The fourth section known as prophets section includes Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.[2] This is considered the official canon .

Although some protestant Bibles would include an extra section known as the Apocrypha where the books of the Catholic Old Testament not found in the Jewish Bible are included. This section is not however considered part of the official Protestant canon.[3] As such, the Protestant Bible resembles the Jewish Bible in terms of the number of books included in the official canon and the exclusion of the books found in the Septuagint. However, the Protestant canon resembles the Catholic canon as far as the arrangement of the books into sections is concerned. 

The Eastern Orthodox canon of Scripture resembles the Catholic canon in terms of the books included and the arrangement thereof. However, some variations are found. For example, what the Catholic canon calls 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, the Eastern Orthodox canon would call them 1 Kingdoms, 2 Kingdoms, 3 Kingdoms, and 4 Kingdoms. 1 and 2 Chronicles may be known in Orthodox circles as 1 Paraleipomenon and 2 Paraleipomenon. 2 Chronicles includes the Prayer of Manasseh which is not found in the Catholic or Protestant official canons. The book of Psalms includes an extra psalm rendering the number of Psalms 151 instead of the 150 found in the Catholic and Protestant Bibles. The Book of Daniel includes additional parts such as the story of Daniel and Susanna at its beginning, Bel and the Serpent at the end, and the hymn of the three young men. A third book of the Maccabees is also found in the Orthodox canon.[4] In a way, the Eastern Orthodox canon acts as an expanded version of its Roman Catholic `counterpart given the additional parts it includes. 

The Oriental Orthodox Churches are a unique case where the various Churches making up that single communion have variances within their canons of Scripture. For example, the Coptic Orthodox canon largely resembles the Eastern Orthodox canon whereas the Ethiopian Orthodox Church added more books such as the book of Enoch and the book of Jubilees (also known as the Book of Division).[5] Furthermore, the Syriac Orthodox canon, having relied on the Peshitta version of the Bible, included four additional Psalms from 152-155 and an additional book namely 2 Baruch.[6] Despite such variations within the canons of Scripture within Oriental Orthodoxy, all six churches agree in dogma and fundamental beliefs.      

[1] Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds., The Jewish Study Bible: Second Edition, 2 edition (Oxford University Press, 2014), 2155.

[2] Berlin and Brettler, 2155.

[3] Harold W. Attridge, ed., HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated, Revised, Updated edition (HarperOne, 2017), xxxi.

[4] Thomas Nelson, The Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), xiii.

[5] Bruk A. Asale, “The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Canon of the Scriptures: Neither Open nor Closed,” The Bible Translator67, no. 2 (August 1, 2016): 202–22,

[6] Stanley Calvin Pigue, “The Syriac Apocryphal Psalms: Text, Texture, and Commentary” (ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1988),