When television documentaries explore Christianity, they have little difficulty finding diverse manifestations of faith and practice from around the world. A global survey also reveals a surprising, even startling, diversity when it comes to the content of the Bible.
The New Testament has been well defined for many centuries, and the canonical number of four Gospels dates to the second century. But the shape of the Old Testament is more uncertain. Western Protestants may be surprised to learn how relatively thin their own book is when compared to that of the Catholics, who value texts like Wisdom, Tobit and the two books of Maccabees. This difference is quite recent. During the Reformation, Protestant translators segregated those books into a section labeled Apocrypha (though ordinary believers continued to read and value these books at least into the early 19th century, when they largely dropped out of use).
Philip Jenkins is professor of history at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion and author of The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade and The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand-Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels.