The chart below details various canons of the Old Testament in various churches. These lists represent the current canon lists of the respective traditions, which in many cases will differ from individual historical canon lists of the respective traditions in various ages past. A consistent problem with many studies of the development of the canon of the Christian Bible has been taking individual and sometimes idiosyncratic canon lists as being of the same value as the authorized canons employed, even when there is no evidence that the various individual lists possessed any permanent authority at all. What, for instance, is one to make of St Athanasius of Alexandria’s canon list in his 39th festal letter, which, although it closely resembles the modern Protestant canon, does not at all resemble the canon of that church of which he was the archbishop? Rather than taking his letter as a point for the “establishment” of the canon, it must rather be understood as an anomalous, individual opinion of no lasting value in its context. Indeed, canon 2 of the “Quinisext” Council in Trullo, which canon ratifies not only the canons qua rulings of former councils and Church Fathers, but thereby also ratifies various divergent canons qua Biblical canon lists, both short (like the Hebrew and Protestant canons of the Old Testament) and long (like the various Orthodox lists below).
The chart is adapted and expanded from that in Siegfried Meurer, ed. The Apocrypha in Ecumenical Perspective (New York: United Bible Societies, 1991), 160.
For more detail on the very complicated issues involved in determining the Ethiopian canon, see Cowley, R. W. “The Biblical Canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Today.” Ostkirchliche Studien, 23 (1974): 318–323.
A very interesting series of six articles by Michael Stone on Armenian Canon Lists appeared over the course of several years in the pages of The Harvard Theological Review:
“Armenian Canon Lists I: The Council of Partaw (768 C. E.)” — 66.4 (Oct 1973): 479-486
“Armenian Canon Lists II: The Stichometry of Anania of Shirak (c. 615 – c. 690 C.E.)” — 68.3/4 (July 1975): 253-260
“Armenian Canon Lists III: The Lists of Mechitar of Ayrivank (c. 1285 C.E.)” — 69.3/4 (July 1976): 479-486
“Armenian Canon Lists IV: The List of Gregory of Tat’ew (14th Century)” — 72.3/4 (July 1979): 237-244
“Armenian Canon Lists V: Anonymous Texts” — 83.2 (Apr 1990): 141-161
“Armenian Canon Lists VI : Hebrew Names and Other Attestations” — 94.4 (Oct 2001): 477-491
The most surprising aspect of Stone’s articles is the information that for much of the history of the Armenian Church the books Joseph and Aseneth and The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs were included in the Armenian Old Testament and certainly considered canonical. As this is an historical position and not, apparently, a contemporary one among the Armenian Orthodox, I have not noted this in the chart below. Relatedly, Stone discusses a number of lists representing the New Testament canon in the Armenian tradition which appear to indicate a number of supernumerary books above the standard 27, added to raise the number of books to that of the Old Testament, 36. Among a number of unknown such books, also included are some recognizable ones such as the Apostolic Canons, the Areopagitica, and the Epistle of Barnabas. Stone suspects these particular lists not to actually represent the Armenian canon tradition, but rather to be something along the order of learned translations, a subset of canon lists that needs to be further investigated.
For discussion of the New Testament canon, which I have not represented in the chart below due to the current unanimity of its comprising the standard 27 books, I recommend the classic by Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford University Press, 1987). The only known important historical variations are the following:
- The Apocalypse was the last book of the NT to have found canonical establishment in the Eastern Church, perhaps as late as 900 AD. Although the book had been referred to by some throughout its history, of course, doubts persisted. The Eastern Orthodox lectionary, established around 700 AD, includes no readings from the Apocalypse whatsoever, though imagery from the book is found throughout liturgical, hymnographic, and hagiographic literature throughout the early Byzantine period.
- The earliest Syrian NT Peshitta canon excluded 2 Peter, 2-3 John, Jude, and the Apocalypse. The earliest Syriac versions of these books appear in the Harklean edition of the NT. From that time, the early sixth century, they have been considered canonical in the Western Syrian churches. In East Syrian churches, they are practically so, as all Syriac Bibles are printed with these books.
- According to some Coptic lists, along with the usual 27 books of the NT are included 1 and 2 Clement and the Apostolic Constititutions, which book is considered to have been compiled by Clement. Other Coptic canonical lists do not, however, include these additions, nor are they printed in Coptic Bibles, or read in the liturgy.
- According to some Ethiopian lists, there are 5 books of various ecclesiastical canons, no individual book of which is common to any other tradition, which are to be included in the NT canon. But Bibles without these books, utilizing another manner of reckoning the canon, traditionally described as The Eighty-One Books, are considered complete. (See the Cowley article noted above.)
+ indicates that a book is canonical in that tradition.
d indicates the book is deuterocanonical in the Latin Vulgate tradition
Biblical books are listed per row, with the traditional canons listed per column. Alternate names and apocryphal status are noted.
See this chart for help with the various Ezra book names.
|Ezra||+||+||1 Ezra||2 Esdras||1 Esdras||+||+||+||+|
|Additions to Esther||apocrypha||apocrypha||d||+||+||+||+||+||+|
|Song of Songs||+||+||+||+||+||+||+||+||+|
|Wisdom of Solomon||apocrypha||apocrypha||d||+||+||+||+||+||+|
|Letter of Jeremiah||apocrypha||apocrypha||d||+||+||+||+||+||+|
|Additions to Daniel||apocrypha||apocrypha||d||+||+||+||+||+||+|
|1 Maccabees||apocrypha||apocrypha||d||+||+||+||+||different book with same name||+|
|2 Maccabees||apocrypha||apocrypha||d||+||+||+||+||different book with same name||+|
|3 Maccabees||+||+||+||different book with same name||extra-
|Prayer of Manasseh||apocrypha||apocrypha||appendix||+||+||+||+|
|appendix||1 Esdras||2 Esdras||+||extra-
|Letter of Baruch
(2 Baruch 78.1-86.1)
[East Syrian only]