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The word apocrypha, from the Greek άπόκρυφος, "hidden", has two different meanings.

According to one meaning, primarily used by Protestants, it refers to the Deuterocanon, books that Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians include as part of the Bible, but which Protestants and Jews exclude.

According to the other meaning, primarily used by Catholics, it refers to those books from a similar period and in a similar style to the canonical books, but which none the less are not included in the Catholic canon (nor in the Protestant canon). Protestants call these books Pseudepigrapha[?].

The above terminology applies to the Old Testament. In relation to the New Testament, however, both Protestants and Catholics call books they reject Apocrypha (their NT canons are in agreement.)

Apocrypha of the Old Testament

When referring to the Old Testament, Protestant Christians use the term Apocrypha to refer to a different set of books from what Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians do, who accept a fuller canon based on the Septuagint Greek version of the Old Testament in use by Greek-speaking Jews in the time of Jesus. The differences cover 7 books: Tobias, Judith, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, First and Second Maccabees; and also certain additions to Esther and Daniel. When used by protesants, the term "Apocrypha" is used for the books that they reject but Catholics and Orthodox Christians accept, while they call books accepted by none of these groups "Pseudipigrapha". This term applies only to books in the Old Testament; in New Testament studies the two terms are used interchangeably.

We start with the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) that was made in Alexandria, Egypt, about 300 BC. This translation included a number of writings that the leaders of the Palestinian Jewish community eventually rejected as part of the Jewish biblical canon. These rejected works became known as the apocrypha; one of the main reasons that these works were rejected was that they were composed at a later date than all the other books which did make it into the Tanach. Most books in the apocrypha were composed between 200 BC and AD 100.

The books in the Septuagint, but not in the Hebrew version of the Bible, include the following:

  • III Esdras (also known as 1 Esdras, or Esdras A)
  • IV Esdras (also known as 2 Esdras, or Esdras B)
  • Tobit (also known as Tobias)
  • Judith
  • Additions to the book of Esther
  • The Wisdom of Solomon
  • Sirach (also known as the Ben Sira, the Wisdom of Ben Sira, the Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach, or Eccelesiasticus)
  • Baruch
  • The letter of Jeremiah
  • The three additions to Daniel (includes The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three; Susanna; and Daniel, Bel and the Dragon)
  • The Prayer of Manasseh
  • 1 Maccabees
  • 2 Maccabees
  • 3 Maccabees
  • 4 Maccabees
  • Psalm 151

The naming scheme of the Esdras books is complicated. The Hebrew Bible has one book on this subject, called "Ezra-Nehemiah", but the Septuagint and modern editions of the Christian Old Testament has two separate books, Ezra (called Esdras I by Catholics) and Nehemiah (called Esdras II by Catholics). This book is, or these books are, a canonical part of the Bible. However, two further books on the same subject are apocryphal, the first being called Esdras III (by Catholics), 1 Esdras (by Protestants), or Esdras A (by Greek Orthodox Christians). The second apocryphal book of Esdras is called Esdras IV (by Catholics), 2 Esdras (by Protestants) and Esdras B (by Greek Orthodox Christians).

Not all books from the Septuagint are accepted by the Roman Catholic church as canonical. The Prayer of Manasseh, 3 and 4 Esdras, 3 and 4 Maccabees and Psalm 151 are not considered to be canonical, and are not included in the deuterocanon, although some Protestants include these books in the Apocrypha. In the Vulgate, these books are found in an Appendix.

Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches regard the apocrypha as canonical, belonging to the deuterocanon (literally 'second canon'); their status as being 'second canon' does not mean they are viewed as being less divinely inspired, but is merely a recognition of the controversy which has ensued over them. Protestant churches do not consider these books as canonical, but they vary in their attitude towards them. Some Protestants view these books as useful for religious purposes, although not to be relied upon for doctrine. Other Protestants largely ignore them, some even rejecting them as having any value at all.

All Eastern Orthodox accept the Catholic deuterocanon, sometimes also including books that Catholics do not accept (e.g. 3 Maccabees and Psalm 151).

Texts rejected by orthodox Christian churches were also accepted by various Gnostic sects.

The Old Testament psuedipigrapha - books accepted neither by Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish readers - include a number of books with an apocalyptic theme.

Apocrypha of the New Testament

The New Testament apocrypha strictly defined - books accepted neither by Catholic nor Protestant readers - includes several extra gospels and lives of apostles. Some of these books were clearly produced by Gnostic authors or by members of other groups later defined as heterodox, or outside the body of the Church. Many of these writings were discovered in the 19th and 20th centuries, and have produced lively speculation about the state of affairs in Early Christianity.

The most famous apocryphic book of the New Testament is without doubts the Gospel of Thomas. Most of the codices found in Nag Hammadi (see this word), including the only complete text of the Gospel of Thomas, are also considered as apocrypha of the New Testament. Also see the entry on Gnosticism for a list of other recovered works considered to be of Gnostic origin.

Some specific books of the New Testament apocrypha:

The Jewish View of the Apocrypha

While Jews reject the apocrypha as having religious value in and of of itself, at various times some in the Jewish community have drawn from it as a legitimate part of Jewish literary creativity; elements of the apocrypha have even been used as the basis for two important parts of the Jewish liturgy. In the Mahzor[?] (High Holy day prayer book), a medieval Jewish poet used Ben Sira[?] as the basis for a beautiful poem, Ke'Ohel HaNimtah. This is a closing piyut[?] in the Seder Avodah[?] section, in the Yom Kipur[?] Musaf. It begins "How glorious indeed was the High Priest, when he safely left the Holy of Holies.

Like the clearest canopy of Heaven was the dazzling countenance of the priest". (This can be seen, for example, on page 828 of the Birnbaum edition of the Mahzor.) The Conservative Mahzor replaces the medieval piyut with the relevant section from Ben Sira, which is more direct. The apocrypha has even formed the basis of the most important of all Jewish prayers, the Amidah (the Shemonah Esrah). Ben Sira provides the vocabulary and framework for many of the Amidah's blessings, which were instituted by the men of the Great Assembly.

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