Bible Reviews Bible Reviews

History of the Western Bible Canons

Date Event Description Source
200 Finished The last of the Bible documents is authored no later than this. HarperCollins Bible Dictionary Alternate Source Alternate Source
325 Council of Nicaea Contrary to popular legend, this council has nothing to do with the formation of the Bible Canon. Any reputable source on the history of that council. More Info
c. 350 Proto-Bibles Earliest known proto-Bibles created. Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus
364 Council of Laodicea Earliest known official (council-agreed) list of approved Biblical Scriptures. OT includes modern Jewish Scriptures plus The Book of Baruch (presumably also including The Letter of Jeremiah, though not specifically stated since that document was typically appended to either Jeremiah or Baruch). NT is identical to the modern except that The Book of Revelation is not included. Bible Researcher
367 Festal Letter of Athanasius Earliest known list of Scriptures that includes a New Testament identical to our modern New Testament. Relevant Excerpt from the Festal Letter, Translated into English
393 Synod of Hippo Earliest known official (council-agreed) list of approved Biblical Scriptures that was actually used in a Bible. OT is identical to the modern Roman Catholic except The Book of Baruch is not included. NT is identical to the modern. Description of the Ratification of the Synod of Hippo with the relevant text translated into English.
397 Council of Carthage Approves the list of Scriptures agreed upon at the Synod of Hippo. Important because the decisions of a Council had more weight and was more widely accepted than the decisions of a Synod. Description of the Ratification of the Synod of Hippo with the relevant text translated into English.
c. 405 Latin Vulgate This is the first book actually called “The Bible”. It included the same Scriptures as approved at the Synod of Hippo. Etymology of the word “Bible”. (Note that the word does not mean “book”, singular, before Medieval Latin.) Examples of early Vulgate contents identical to Hippo canon: Codex Amiatinus, Codex Toletanus.
c. 500 Decretum Gelasianum Document includes a list of approved religious Scriptures and a list of rejected religious Scriptures. The list of approved Scriptures is identical to the Synod of Hippo list (including no mention of The Book of Baruch in either list). English translation of the Decretum
8th Century Codex Amiatinus Oldest known intact copy of the complete Latin Vulgate. Follows Synod of Hippo exactly. List of Contents of Codex Amiatinus. Explicit mention of omission of Baruch (4th paragraph).
10th Century Codex Toletanus Another ancient, intact copy of the complete Latin Vulgate. Follows Synod of Hippo exactly. Scan of Codex Toletanus Table of Contents Page (Latin). (Note: very difficult to read, but as best as I am able to determine Baruch is not appended to Jeremiah.)
c. 1300 Codex Gigas

Oldest copy of the Latin Vulgate of which I am aware that includes The Book of Baruch.

(Note: I am unable to confirm the uncited claim on Wikipedia that the 10th century Codex Theodulphianus likewise has Baruch appended to Jeremiah. Museum scans of Theodulphianus are available online, but I am unable to read the Visigothic script.)

Scan of Codex Gigas. (Latin). On that page, the sentence in large capitals is the beginning of the first sentence of The Book of Baruch (which in Gigas is appended to The Book of Jeremiah). The last word on the page — “Stellae” — is the first word of Baruch chapter 3 verse 34. You can verify (if you are willing to spend the time) by comparing that scan to this text of the Latin Baruch.
1534 Luther Bible Luther is the first to separate some of the traditional Old Testament Scriptures into a separate section of the Bible titled “Apocrypha”. The Scriptures so relocated are those Jewish documents not accepted by mainstream Judaism as Divine Scripture. That is: they are the Old Testament Scriptures that appeared in the Christian Bibles of Luther’s time but do not appear in Jewish Bibles. Note that Luther did not remove those Scriptures from any of the editions of his Bible. All of Luther’s editions of his Bible (the last was printed in 1546 shortly after his death) included the same Scriptures as modern Roman Catholic Bibles excepting the inclusion of “The Prayer of Manasseh”, which in Luther’s Bibles is found at the end of the Apocrypha even though it is not listed in the Table of Contents. Luther 1545 Bible, the Prayer of Mannasseh (“Das Gebet Manasse”) appears halfway down the page, at the end of the Apocrypha. Same Bible, Table of Contents. The contents of the Apocrypha are beneath entry 24 (XXIIII) on that page and are as follows:
German English
Judith Judith
Das Buch der Weisheit The Book of Wisdom
Tobia Tobit
Jesus Syrach Jesus Sirach (in English titled: “Sirach” or “Ecclesi­asticus”)
Baruch Baruch
Macca­beorum Of the Maccabees (In English titled: “1 & 2 Maccabees”)
Stücke in Esther und Daniel Portions in Esther and Daniel (titled separately in English Apocrypha)
1535 Coverdale’s Bible The first printed, complete (Old and New Testaments) English Bible. The contents of this Bible (which includes The First and Second Books of Esdras and “The Prayer of Manasseh”) begins the basis for what later became the official Anglican Biblical Canon (and the English Protestant Apocrypha). 1535 Coverdale’s Bible Table of Contents. The Apocrypha Table of Contents is at the top of the right-hand page. Like the Luther Bible, “The Prayer of Manasseh” is not listed in the Table of Contents. Like the traditional English Apocrypha (unlike Luther), 1 & 2 Esdras (titled the “thyrde” and “fourth” books of “Esdras”) are included in the Apocrypha (at the beginning), and the portions of Daniel and Esther are separately titled. Unlike both Luther and the traditional English Apocrypha, Baruch is included in the Old Testament (following Lamentations) instead of in the Apocrypha.
1537 Matthew’s Bible

Apocrypha is nearly identical to what I name “the traditional English Apocrypha”, both in order and in content, lacking only specific listing in the Table of Contents of “The Letter of Jeremiah” (it is appended to Baruch, which is traditional in English Bibles). The same Apocrypha contents are found in The Great Bible (1539) and the Bishops’ Bible (1568), and in the official document, “The 39 Articles” of the Convocation of Canterbury (1563, see below). (Note: no Table of Contents in the 1560 Geneva Bible.)

In the Table of Contents of a 1569 edition of the Geneva Bible, we see 1 & 2 Esdras (rather than 3 & 4 Esdras) and “The Letter of Jeremiah” is mentioned. This is also seen in the 1611 King James Version and in the modern standard.

1537 Matthew’s Bible Apocrypha Table of Contents. The Apocrypha Table of Contents is on the right-hand page.
Matthew’s Traditional English
The thyrde boke of Esdras 1 Esdras
The fourth boke of Esdras 2 Esdras
The boke of Tobiah Tobit
The boke of Judith Judith
The reast of the boke of Hesther The Rest of Esther
The boke of Wysdome Wisdom
Ec­cle­si­as­ti­cus Ec­cle­si­as­ti­cus
Baruch the Prophete Baruch(, with the Epistle of Jeremiah)
The songe of the iii Childre in the ove(n) (The) Song of the Three (Holy) Children
The storye of Susanna The Story of Susanna
The storye of Bel and of the Dragon (The Idol) Bel and the Dragon
The prayer of Manasseh The Prayer of Manasseh
The fyrst boke of the Machabees First Maccabees
The second boke of the Machabees Second Maccabees
Matthew’s Traditional English
1563 Convocation of Canterbury Official listing of the Scriptures included in Protestant English (Anglican) Bibles. Identical in content and arrangement to Matthew’s Bible. The document claims that the Scriptures of the English Protestant Apocrypha are not to be used to establish doctrine but “…the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners…” The Articles of the 1563 Convocation of Canterbury. Article VI is the relevant article. It lists the books of the English Bible, including the Apocrypha. Like the existing English Bibles of the time it uses 3 & 4 Esdras to refer to what are now in English typically titled 1 & 2 Esdras. Also like the existing English Bibles of the time it omits the title of “The Letter of Jeremiah” (which normally is appended to Baruch).
1564 Council of Trent Ratified Official listing of the Scriptures included in modern Roman Catholic Bibles. The Pope of the time, when ratifying the decision, asked that The First and Second Books of Esdras and “The Prayer of Manasseh” continue to be included in Bibles so that they would not be lost to history. [Source?] This request was honored in the first English Roman Catholic Bible, the Douay-Rheims Bible, and also in the Latin Vulgate of the time. However, modern Roman Catholic English Bibles (with only one exception) no longer include those Scriptures. (The exception: there are copies of the Good News Bible with Apocrypha that carry an Imprimatur.)

The Decree concerning the canonical Scriptures. The Old Testament list is in the second paragraph. Note the wording “Jeremias, with Baruch” which is exactly what we saw previously in Codex Gigas (Baruch appended to Jeremiah).

1590s First 66-Book Bible The oldest known complete (Old & New Testaments) Bible to be published without the Apocrypha is an edition of the Geneva Bible published by the Puritans at this time. The Puritans, unlike nearly all other Protestant sects of the time, believed that the Scriptures of the Apocrypha should not be included in the Bible. HarperCollins Bible Dictionary
c. 1700 66-Book English Bibles Available About this time, the Puritan doctrine of 66-book Bibles has become fairly well-accepted, and 66-book English Bibles, though still the minority, are readily available for purchase. Google Books (perusal of scans of Bibles of the 17th and 18th centuries). Also: HarperCollins Bible Dictionary description of early 17th-century laws prohibiting the production of 66-book Bibles.
1764 Purver’s Bible Possibly the first English Bible version that is available only in a 66-book edition. Also known as The Quaker Bible.
c. 1800 Most English Bibles are 66-Book Bibles About this time more English Bibles without the Apocrypha are being purchased (and published) than are English Bibles with the Apocrypha. Records of Bible printings by the British Bible Society.
Date Event Description Source


  • HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. Achtemeier, Paul J. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.