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In every-day conversation, Apocryphal means "of questionable (or lacking) authenticity", describing a story nevertheless frequently told and widely believed. This article is about the theological meaning.

The word apocrypha, from the Greek άπόκρυφος, "hidden", refers in general to religious works that are not considered canonical, or part of official scripture.

Table of contents
1 Four Criteria
2 Two modern meanings
3 Apocrypha of the Old Testament
4 Apocrypha of the New Testament
5 The Jewish View of the Apocrypha
6 The Mormon View of the Apocrypha
7 Notes

Four Criteria

In historic Christianity, the Four Criteria for Canonicity are:

  1. Apostolic Origin – attributed to and based on the preaching/teaching of the first-generation apostles (or their close companions).
  2. Universal Acceptance – acknowledged by all major Christian communities in the ancient world (by the end of the fourth century).
  3. Liturgical Use – read publicly when early Christian communities gathered for the Lord's Supper (their weekly worship services).
  4. Consistent Message – containing a theological outlook similar or complementary to other accepted Christian writings.

Two modern meanings

In modern Christianity, the word has two different specific meanings. According to one meaning, primarily used by
Protestants, it refers to the deuterocanonical books which Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians include as part of the Bible, but which many Protestants and present day Jews exclude. Before the Council of Jamnia in 92 C.E. Jews did not have a single unified canon of scripture. Some Jews (as evidenced in the Dead Sea Scrolls) included much of the Apocrypha as scripture. At the Council of Jamnia these books were excluded predominantly because they were in use by Christians.

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 nonetheless 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 and by some Palestinian Jews as well. The differences cover 7 books: Tobias, Judith, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, First and Second Maccabees; and also certain additions to Esther and Daniel.

We start with the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Tanakh (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. They were rejected by Martin Luther for some verses contained in some of them which seemed to contradict his views, especially a verse in Macabees which alludes to purgatory "it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins".

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:

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 alpha (by Greek Orthodox Christians). The second apocryphal book of Esdras is called Esdras IV (by Catholics), 2 Esdras (by Protestants) and Esdras beta (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 canon, although some Protestants include these books in the Apocrypha. In the Vulgate, these books are found in an Appendix.

Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches regard the apocrypha as canonical, and refer to them as "deuterocanonical" (literally, from the '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 deuterocanonical books, sometimes also including books that Catholics do not accept (e.g. 3 Maccabees and Psalm 151).

Among the Oriental Orthodox, the Apocrypha are accepted, and with the Ethiopian Orthodox there are additional books such as Jubilees, Enoch, and the Rest of the Words of Baruch. Enoch was accepted as scripture because the book of Jude in the New Testament quotes it as scripture.

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

The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha - 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.

Though Protestants, Catholics and most Orthodox agree on the canon of the New Testament the Ethiopian Orthodox are an exception. They add I & II Clement, and Shepherd of Hermas to the New Testament.

Originally however, Martin Luther considered the epistle of James as apocryphal, because it contained the line which seemed to contradict his teachings of salvation by faith alone: "Faith without works is dead". Later Protestants included the book of James in their New Testaments.

The most famous apocryphal book of the New Testament is without doubt the Gospel of Thomas. Most of the codices found in Nag Hammadi, 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:

For Papyrus Egerton 2, a famous unknown (fragmentary) Gospel compare: " class="external">

For the so called Secret Gospel of Mark, mentioned in a letter of Clement of Alexandria discovered in 1958 by Morton Smith compare: " class="external">

The Jewish View of the Apocrypha

While Jews reject the apocrypha as having religious value in and 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.

The Mormon View of the Apocrypha

Those who claim Joseph Smith, Jr was a prophet believe that he received a revelation from God in answer to a question about the valitity of the Apocrypha at Kirtland, Ohio, March 9, 1833, which is now Section 91 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The section reads in part:

There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly; there are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men…Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom;

Although Latter-day Saints use an edition of the King James Version (KJV) of the bible that does not currently include the Apocrypha, it has been used by members and leaders in the past - especially when it was part of the KJV.

Latter-day Saints and most Mormonism sects believe that more "hidden" or apocryphal texts will come to light prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ.


1 Books that are in the Greek, Slavic, and Roman Catholic Bibles
2 Books that are in the Greek, Slavic Bibles, but not in the Roman Catholic Bible
3 Books that are in the Slavic Bible and the appendix to the Latin Vulgate
4 Books that are in the appendix to the Greek Bible