What books are in Eastern Orthodox Bibles in both OT and NT? Are they the same as the Roman Catholic Bibles? What final decree or canon does the Eastern Orthodox follow and from where do they get it?
The New Testament canon is the same for Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestants. The first official listing of these was by Saint Athanasius in his Festal Letter as Archbishop of Alexandria in 367.
The Old Testament canon was and remains a more complicated issue. There are three problems (1) the extra-books, the one that we part of the LXX manuscript tradition, and this was the bible of the early christians and NT writers (2) the additions to accepted books, such as additions to Daniel or even Baruch / Letter of Jeremiah as “additions” to Jeremiah (3) the differences between the Masoteric text and LXX plaform for some books or critical verses. Jeremiah comes to mind since the Hebrew and LXX texts are quite different and the Dead Sea Scrolls support the LXX in this case, and LXX variants in many cases.
The Orthodox position has been to try to harmonize all these things by understanding what inspiration and scripture are all about: they are about witnessing to the truth, and the summit of truth is Jesus Christ. However, this witness can only be understood or unlocked by the same Holy Spirit which was at work in the sacred authors whose writings pointed to this spiritual truth. For this reason, the Orthodox recognize
- that the Jewish canon is canonical because this is what is accepted as authoritative witness
- that the LXX variants and additional books should be included in the collection of Scripture because:
- they are indispensable to inform the reader of the NT (the NT quotes the LXX + the NT stories make reference to ideas and events only found in the LXX deuterocanonicals
- they were accepted and used by all the early Churches as part of Scripture in some form (i.e. Origen’s testimony in Letter to Africanus)
- they include significant testimonies to Christ such as Wisdom 2
- the Holy Spirit will guide Christians in the Church to properly use and understand these texts, just as the absence of the Holy Spirit will prevent someone from understanding even the most basic and obvious revelation of Scripture. This is why St Paul tells us that it is only by the Holy Spirit that someone can say “Jesus is Lord.”
As the result, the Orthodox Bibles always contain the protocanonical (canonical) books also accepted by Jews and Protestants + the deuterocanonical books which are part of the LXX / early Christian tradition. In the Orthodox “deuterocanonical” means “having secondary witnessing authority” not “canonized later” (which is the Roman Catholic perspective).
On a final note, it might be said that the issue of canon is somewhat open in the Orthodox tradition, and that it is not a major issue. The universal practice in Orthodoxy has been (1) to include these books in all editions of Orthodox bibles (2) to acknowledge that there is a hierarchy in the canon, as Hebrews 1:1-2 confirms.