According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Friday, May 20, 2016

What is the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha? How are they to be Read and Studied?

What is the difference between the Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha? Why are these rejected by most?

by John Oakes
November 25, 2013


I can’t find any solid information on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and why these books are not considered inspired scripture. I know they are considered false writings, but why? Are the Old Testament pseudepigrapha and the Old Testament apocrypha consideredto be the same thing? Is the OT Pseudepigrapha just a branch of the OT apocryphal writings? Are therefore the same principles are applied to the OT Pseudepigrapha about their rejection as the OT apocrypha? I’m not sure if you have any lectures on this subject already. Any thing would help at this point.


The Old Testament Apocrypha and the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha are not the same thing. The contents of the OT Apocrypha is pretty much fixed. The Apocrypha is, by definition, those extra books beyond the canonical 39 which are accepted by all Christians and Jews as part of the Old Testament canon. These extra books are found, for example, in Roman Catholic Bibles. The Old Testament Apocrypha includes Judith, Tobit, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Susannah and the additions to Daniel. The Ethiopian Coptic Church also includes 1 Enoch in its canon.

The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha is a loosely-defined set of Jewish writings from about 250 BC to about 150 AD which are characterized by the fact that they are credited as being authored by an important Old Testament character who almost certainly did not write that book. With this definition, 1 Enoch and perhaps Baruch could be included as part of the “Pseudepigrapha,” so there is some overlap between the OT Apocrypha and the OT Pseudepigrapha. There are many books which fit the second category, but which were never included in any Christian or Jewish canon. These would include Odes of Solomon, 1, 2, 3, and 4th Esdras, Revelation of Moses, 2 and 3 Baruch, The Book of Adam and many more.

Neither the OT Apocrypha nor the OT Pseudepigrapha is accepted as inspired scripture by the majority of Christian (or by any Jews for that matter) for a few reasons. The principle reason is that the Jews themselves did not ever accept these as canonical. Even if they did (for which we have no evidence) they certainly are not accepted today. God gave to the Jewish scribes and teacher the job of collecting the list of inspired writings. By faith, I conclude that the books they chose are in fact inspired. Whether other books are in fact inspired is really not all that important if we accept, again by faith, that God chose to act to make sure that the accepted Jewish canon contained what he wanted it to contain.

Another reason these books ought to be rejected is found from the content of the books themselves. Please check it out for yourself. If you read Bel and the Dragon or 3 Baruch or 1 Enoch you will discover for yourself that there are clear marks that these are not inspired. The author of 2 Maccabees apologizes for the poor quality of his work at the end of the letter. Can you imagine John or Isaiah saying that? Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus contain wise sayings, but also blatant false doctrines, such as the claim that by deeds ones sins are atoned for.

A third reason these books are to be rejected is that, without exception, they were written hundreds of years after the Old Testament was complete. One can make a strong argument that God brought to an end prophetic utterance through the Jews from the time of Nehemiah or Malachi until the coming of the Messiah. This is the opinion of virtually all Jews, which is a significant reason they reject all of these apocryphal and pseudepigraphal books.

Another reason that these are rejected by virtually all is that they were not even written in Hebrew in the first place, but in Aramaic (in some cases) or in Greek (in most cases). This is not as strong a reason as the other three, but can be taken in mind in judging these writings. It is one reason Jerome rejected these writings at the end of the 4th century AD.

If you want more information on this topic, there is a fairly detailed appendix in my book “Daniel, Prophet to the Nations” available at

John Oakes

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Challenges for the Study of Pseudepigrapha

by Phillip J. Long
May 18, 2016

Amazon Link
Since I intended to spend the summer reviewing the apocalyptic literature in the Pseudepigrapha, this would be a good to time think about some of the challenges reading this material. I will be using the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, edited James Charlesworth (originally Doubleday, 1983; not Yale University Press). Theabbreviation OTP throughout this series refers to the 1983 print edition of these two volumes. It is important to point out the obvious: there was no collection of “Old Testament Pseudepigrapha” in the ancient world. Although a few were considered sacred by some elements of the early church, these books were never collected as an alternate canon nor were they suppressed by orthodox Christians. There was no grand conspiracy of women-hating priests who systematically suppressed the free-thinking writers of this material. That sort of wild-eyed story telling makes for a good Hollywood movie or a wacky conspiracy theory blog, but it is simply not the case.

There are two problems with using the Pseudepigrapha as a source for studying first century Judaism. The first is the problem of the date of the documents. Some texts come to us in translations dated centuries later than the period under investigation. For example, 2 Enoch (The Slavonic Apocalypse of Enoch) may date to the late first century A.D., but there are no manuscripts which date earlier than the fourteenth century and any “supposed Greek composition need not have been produced before A.D. 1000” (F. I. Anderson, “2 Enoch” in OTP, 1:94 ). Because of this, scholars date the original composition of 2 Enoch from pre-Christian times into the late medieval period. Given this ambiguity, it is probably best not to use 2 Enoch as the centerpiece of a description of first century theology or common second Temple period Jewish theology.

A second problem is that of influence on the theology of “common Judaism” of the first century. We may confidently date a book such as the Psalms of Solomon to “about 50 B.C.” and even posit a Pharisaical context for the book, but how we know with any measure of confidence the book was read in the first century widely enough to change way people really thought? Or to put it another way, how do we know the book reflects a broad consensus of opinion of first century thinking? The book may have been written and circulated in among a very small community and was virtually unknown to readers outside of that community. Similarly, the book may have been the work of an individual maverick thinker who was out of touch with the rest of Judaism and received virtually no recognition until Christians began to use the text in the second or third centuries.

There are some methods to gauge the date and popularity of a text in the first century. If the text appears among the Dead Sea Scrolls we can at least know the Qumran community valued the text, especially if it appears in multiple copies. For example, Aramaic portions of First Enoch were present at Qumran. These fragments are not precisely the same text as the later Ethiopic version and some are too small to translate. The Dead Sea Scrolls at least confirm the book was known well before the first century and was popular enough to appear in the library of the Qumran community.

A second possible way to measure the potential influence of a text is by way of citation. If other first century works allude to a work there is at least an implication of influence. Using 1 Enoch as an example, we can find echoes of themes in other first century writings, not the least of which is the New Testament. The Epistle of Jude clearly alludes to 1 Enoch 60:8, confirming a date for at least that line to the late first century and a certain popularity in Jewish Christian circles.

The use of 1 Enoch in the book of Revelation is also possible. This evidence is potentially dangerous, since the New Testament reflects Christian popularity, but perhaps not Jewish popularity. In addition, the two sources just mentioned date to the post-70 period. The popularity of 1 Enoch may have increased after the fall of Jerusalem and not accurately reflect the pre-70 worldview.

An additional measure of popularity is the amount additional material created based on an earlier text. 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra seem to have sparked a whole series of books which are based on the earlier versions (i.e., 2 Enoch, 3 Enoch the various other books of Ezra). That Enoch was being read and re-created to reflect a later historical context is a witness to the influence the book may have had in the first century. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs refer to the 1 Enochseveral times, indicating the influence of the apocalyptic text on later Jewish writings (T.Rub. 5:6, T.Sim 5:4, T.Levi 14:1, T.Jud 18:1, T. Dan 5:6, T.Naph 4:1,T.Ben 9:1).

It is also possible a source is dated post-70 A.D. but still reflects something of Jewish expectations before the watershed event of the fall of Jerusalem. 2 Baruchand 4 Ezra are examples of books normally dated at the end of the first century because they refer to the fall of Jerusalem as a past event. Can these books be useful for constructing Jewish expectations in the pre-70 period?

Possibly, but the evidence ought to be handled especially carefully. That some sort of messianic hope is reflected in these books is certain, but to what extent that same messianic hope was present in Palestine in the late 20’s is a more difficult problem. It is possible there was a messianic hope in the 20’s but it was entirely reworked after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra may be an example of this reworking. The difficulty, then, is sorting out the early material from the re-working.

- Phillip J. Long

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Jewish or Christian Pseudepigrapha?

by Phillip J. Long
May 18, 2016

In the previous post I made a few comments on common problems confronting those who study the Pseudepigrapha. A serious problem is that even though a particular book originated among Jewish thinkers of the Second Temple period, most of this literature was preserved by Christians. It is therefore possible Christian scribes made additions or modifications as they copied to make them more appealing to Christians. One of the better examples of this is 4 Ezra, a Jewish apocalypse written at the end of the first century A.D. At some point an introduction and conclusion was added to the book (sometimes called 2 Ezra and 5 Ezra). These additions include Christian elements (the messiah figure places crowns on the heads of the resurrected martyrs is “is the Son of God, whom they confessed in the world.” (4 Ezra2:47).

In a recent essay, Robert Kraft gives us reason to be cautious by asking “can we be sure we are able to separate the Jewish from the Christian?” (Robert A. Kraft, “Setting the Stage and Framing Some Central Questions,” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period 32 [2001]:371-395). All this literature comes to us as preserved by Christians, therefore we have to assume it was of interest to Christians and is always subject to interpolation and adaptation.
We are often warned about using the Mishnah to develop a “background” for New Testament studies because we cannot be sure what elements date to the pre-70 A.D. period. Why not heed the same warning for using the Pseudepigrapha? It seems easy enough to remember this warning when reading the Apocalypse of Daniel, a book clearly written in the ninth century about current events of the ninth century, but should a book like 1 Enoch or 2 Baruch be read with as much caution? Scholars such as Kraft would think so.

It is not appropriate however to throw out anything that looks too “Christian” or create a false dichotomy of either Jewish or Christian literature. The earliest of this material comes from a theological environment when the categories were not quite fully developed. 1 Enoch and 2 Baruch have both Jewish and Christian elements which may be so intertwined that we can neither sort them out, nor should we try since the intertwining is a part of the environment in which they were written.

Perhaps it is best to think of these books in terms of a trajectory. We know the Old Testament is the foundation for all of the Jewish literature we will encounter in the Pseudepigrapha and is highly influential in the Christian material as well. From this starting point we can track how ideas moved from the Old Testament base through the early apocalyptic and Pseudepigraphal literature, then into the New Testament and the Christian pseudepigraphal material. Potentially we could continue to track development into the medieval period since there are any number of texts which are extensions on themes we begin reading in the Old Testament but come to us through hundreds of years of recycling and reapplying.

When approaching a text, we need to place the book in a historical context including both date and provenance, but also sources. In dealing with a book in the Ezra tradition, for example, we need to think about how the book used and re-used the early Ezra traditions. It is therefore possible even a late text from the medieval period still has useful materials for reconstructing the context of the New Testament despite being hundreds of years removed from the period. There is also the problem of diminishing returns studying the later texts. Because of the late date of the text, the value of the Apocalypse of Daniel for studying the New Testament is rather limited, for example.

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List of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pseudepigrapha are falsely attributed works, texts whose claimed author is not the true author, or a work whose real author attributed it to a figure of the past.[1] Some of these works may have originated among JewishHellenizers, others may have Christian authorship in character and origin.

1. Apocalyptic and related works:

2. Testaments:

3. Expansions of Old Testament and other legends:

4. Wisdom and Philosophical Literature:

5. Prayers, Psalms, and Odes:

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Pseudepigrapha (also Anglicized as "pseudepigraph" or "pseudepigraphs") are falsely attributed works, texts whose claimed author is not the true author, or a work whose real author attributed it to a figure of the past.[1]Pseudepigraphy covers the false ascription of names of authors to works, even to authentic works that make no such claim within their text. Thus a widely accepted but incorrect attribution of authorship may make a completely authentic text pseudepigraphical. Assessing the actual writer of a text locates questions of pseudepigraphical attribution within the discipline of literary criticism.

In biblical studies, the term pseudepigrapha typically refers to an assorted collection of Jewish religious works thought to be written c 300 BC to 300 AD. They are distinguished by Protestants from the Deuterocanonical books(Catholic and Orthodox) or Apocrypha (Protestant), the books that appear in extant copies of the Septuagint from the fourth century on,[2] and the Vulgate but not in the Hebrew Bible or in Protestant Bibles.[3] Catholics distinguish only between the deuterocanonical and all the other books, that are called biblical Apocrypha, a name that is also used for the pseudepigrapha in the Catholic usage. In addition, two books considered canonical in the Tewahedochurches, viz. 1 Enoch and Jubilees, are categorized as pseudepigrapha from the point of view of the Chalcedonian churches.


The word pseudepigrapha (from the Greek: ψευδής, pseudes, "false" and ἐπιγραφή, epigraphē, "name" or "inscription" or "ascription"; thus when taken together it means "false superscription or title";[4] see the related epigraphy) is the plural of "pseudepigraphon" (sometimes Latinized as "pseudepigraphum").

Classical and biblical studies

There have probably been pseudepigrapha almost from the invention of full writing. For example, ancient Greek authors often refer to texts which claimed to be by Orpheus or his pupil Musaeus but which attributions were generally disregarded. Already in Antiquity the collection known as the "Homeric hymns" was recognized as pseudepigraphical, that is, not actually written by Homer.

Literary studies

In secular literary studies, when works of antiquity have been demonstrated not to have been written by the authors to whom they have traditionally been ascribed, some writers apply the prefix pseudo- to their names. Thus the encyclopedic compilation of Greek myth called Bibliotheke is often now attributed, not to Apollodorus of Athens, but to "pseudo-Apollodorus" and the Catasterismi, recounting the translations of mythic figure into asterisms and constellations, not to the serious astronomer Eratosthenes, but to a "pseudo-Eratosthenes". The prefix may be abbreviated, as in "ps-Apollodorus" or "ps-Eratosthenes".

Old Testament and Intertestamental Studies

In biblical studies, pseudepigrapha refers particularly to works which purport to be written by noted authorities in either the Old and New Testaments or by persons involved in Jewish or Christian religious study or history. These works can also be written about biblical matters, often in such a way that they appear to be as authoritative as works which have been included in the many versions of the Judeo-Christian scriptures. Eusebius of Caesareaindicates this usage dates back at least to Serapion, bishop of Antioch whom Eusebius records[5] as having said: "But those writings which are falsely inscribed with their name (ta pseudepigrapha), we as experienced persons reject...."

Many such works were also referred to as Apocrypha, which originally connoted "secret writings", those that were rejected for liturgical public reading. An example of a text that is both apocryphal and pseudepigraphical is theOdes of Solomon.[6] It is considered pseudepigraphical because it was not actually written by Solomon but instead is a collection of early Christian (first to second century) hymns and poems, originally written not in Hebrew, and apocryphal because they were not accepted in either the Tanakh or the New Testament.

Protestants have also applied the word Apocrypha to texts found in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox scriptures which were not found in Hebrew manuscripts. Roman Catholics called those texts "deuterocanonical". Accordingly, there arose in some Protestant biblical scholarship an extended use of the term pseudepigrapha for works that appeared as though they ought to be part of the biblical canon, because of the authorship ascribed to them, but which stood outside both the biblical canons recognized by Protestants and Catholics. These works were also outside the particular set of books that Roman Catholics called deuterocanonical and to which Protestants had generally applied the term Apocryphal. Accordingly, the term pseudepigraphical, as now used often among both Protestants and Roman Catholics (allegedly for the clarity it brings to the discussion), may make it difficult to discuss questions of pseudepigraphical authorship of canonical books dispassionately with a lay audience. To confuse the matter even more, Eastern Orthodox Christians accept books as canonical that Roman Catholics and most Protestant denominations consider pseudepigraphical or at best of much less authority. There exist also churches that reject some of the books that Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants accept. The same is true of some Jewish sects. Many works that are "apocryphal" are otherwise considered genuine.

There is a tendency not to use the word pseudepigrapha when describing works later than about 300 AD when referring to biblical matters.[3]:pp.222–228 But the late-appearing Gospel of Barnabas, Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius, the Pseudo-Apuleius (author of a fifth-century herbal ascribed to Apuleius), and the author traditionally referred to as the "Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite", are classic examples of pseudepigraphy. In the fifth century the moralist Salvian published Contra avaritiam ("Against avarice") under the name of Timothy; the letter in which he explained to his former pupil, Bishop Salonius, his motives for so doing survives.[7] There is also a category of modern pseudepigrapha.

Examples of books labeled Old Testament pseudepigrapha from the Protestant point of view are the Ethiopian Book of Enoch, Jubilees (both of which are canonical in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and the Beta Israel sect of Judaism); the Life of Adam and Eve and "Pseudo-Philo".

The term Pseudepigrapha also commonly describes numerous works of Jewish religious literature written from about 300 BC to 300 AD. Not all of these works are actually pseudepigraphical. It also refers to books of the New Testament canon whose authorship is misrepresented. Such works include the following:[3]

New Testament Studies

Many scholars maintain that no letter actually known to be pseudepigraphical would ever have been admitted to the New Testament canon. Other scholars suggest that the church only developed its hard line against pseudepigraphy because the practice was being abused. Some works that were definite forgeries led to a rejection of any sort of pseudepigraphy.[8]:p.225–226

Pauline Epistles
Main article: Pauline epistles

In contrast to most writings termed pseudepigraphical, all 13 of the letters attributed to Paul are still considered canonical. All of them are still part of the Holy Bible and are foundational for the Christian Church. Therefore, those letters thought to be pseudepigraphic are not considered any less valuable than the other letters.[9] They are termed as "disputed" or "pseudepigraphical" letters because they are believed by most scholars to have come from followers writing in Paul's name, often using material from his surviving letters. Those followers may have had access to letters written by Paul that no longer survive.[10] Due to lack of agreement regarding the authorship of certain letters, some theologians prefer to simply distinguish between "undisputed" and "disputed" letters, thus avoiding the term "pseudepigraphical".[9]

Authorship of six of the Apostle Paul's letters has been questioned by some scholars, according to E. P. Sanders.[10] The six disputed epistles are Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. Of these the first three are sometimes referred to as Deutero-Pauline letters meaning "secondary letters of Paul". They internally claim to have been written by Paul, but there is no consensus among scholars on that assertion. Those known as the "Pastoral Epistles", 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus, are widely regarded as pseudographs, though certain scholars do consider them genuine.[8]

Mark Powell writes that the first-century church did not seem to have a problem with the now-disputed letters since their thought was compatible with Paul's doctrines. An established convention at the time—especially epistles written in the first two or three decades after Paul's probable martyrdom, may have been viewed as part of the legitimate Pauline tradition and included as such in the New Testament canon. However, that apparent attitude of "acceptable pseudepigraphy" was short lived and did not continue into the second century. Powell says that there is no record of anyone in the early church ever recognizing that a writing was pseudepigraphical in any sense of the word and still regarding it as authoritative.[8]:p. 225–226

Other New Testament Pseudepigrapha

Examples of other New Testament pseudepigrapha that were not included in the New Testament canon are the Gospel of Peter[11] and the attribution of the Epistle to the Laodiceans[12] to Paul. They are often referred to as New Testament Apocrypha. Further examples of New Testament pseudepigrapha include the aforementioned Gospel of Barnabas,[13] and the Gospel of Judas which begins by presenting itself as "the secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot".

Authorship and Pseudepigraphy: Levels of Authenticity

Scholars have identified seven levels of authenticity which they have organized in a hierarchy ranging from literal authorship, meaning written in the author's own hand, to outright forgery:
  • Literal authorship. A church leader writes a letter in his own hand.
  • Dictation. A church leader dictates a letter almost word for word to an amanuensis.
  • Delegated authorship. A church leader describes the basic content of an intended letter to a disciple or to an amanuensis.
  • Posthumous authorship. A church leader dies, and his disciples finish a letter that he had intended to write, sending it posthumously in his name.
  • Apprentice authorship. A church leader dies, and disciples who had been authorized to speak for him while he was alive continue to do so by writing letters in his name years or decades after his death.
  • Honorable pseudepigraphy. A church leader dies, and admirers seek to honor him by writing letters in his name as a tribute to his influence and in a sincere belief that they are responsible bearers of his tradition.
  • Forgery. A church leader obtains sufficient prominence that, either before or after his death, people seek to exploit his legacy by forging letters in his name, presenting him as a supporter of their own ideas.[8]:p.224

See also

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"Apocryphal" redirects here. For the adjective, see wiktionary:apocryphal. For the section found in some Bibles called Apocrypha, see Biblical apocrypha. For The X-Files episode, see Apocrypha (The X-Files).
Apocryphal letter of Sultan Mohammed II to the Pope ("Notes et extraits pour servir à l'histoire des croisades au XVe siècle" / published byNicolas Jorga. Series 4: 1453-1476, Paris; Bucarest, 1915, pages 126-127

Apocrypha are works, usually written works, that are of unknown authorship, or of doubtful authenticity, or spurious, or not considered to be within a particular canon. The word is properly treated as a plural, but in common usage is often singular.[1] In the context of the Jewish and Christian Bibles, where most texts are of unknown authorship, Apocrypha usually refers to a set of texts included in the Septuagint but not in the Hebrew Bible.

The word's origin is the Medieval Latin adjective apocryphus, "secret, or non-canonical", from the Greek adjective ἀπόκρυφος (apokryphos), "obscure", from the verb ἀποκρύπτειν(apokryptein), "to hide away".[2]


Apocrypha is commonly applied in Christian religious contexts involving certain disagreements about biblical canonicity. Apocryphal writings are a class of documents rejected by some as being worthy to properly be called Scripture, though, as with other writings, they may sometimes be referenced for support. While writings that are now accepted by Christians as Scripture were recognized as being such by various believers early on, the establishment of a largely settled uniform canon was a process of centuries, and what the term "canon" (as well as "apocrypha") precisely meant also saw development. The canonical process took place with believers recognizing writings as being of God, subsequently being followed official affirmation of what had become largely established.[3] The Roman Catholic church provided its first dogmatic definition of her entire canon in 1546, which put a stop to doubts and disagreements about the status of the Apocrypha, as well as certain other books, which had continued from the beginning of the NT church.[4] The leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, like the Catholic church father Jerome (and certain others), favored the Masoretic canon for the Old Testament, excluding apocryphal books in his non-binding canon as being worthy to properly be called Scripture, but included most of them in a separate section, as per Jerome.[5] Luther also doubted the canonicity of four New Testament books (Hebrews, James and Jude, and Revelation), which judgment Protestantism did not follow, but he did not title them Apocrypha.

Explaining the Eastern Orthodox Church's canon is made difficult because of differences of perspective with the Roman Catholic church in the interpretation of how it was done. Today Orthodox accept a few more books than appear in the Catholic canon.


Esoteric writings and objects

The word "apocryphal" (ἀπόκρυφος) was first applied[who?] to writings which were kept secret because they were the vehicles of esoteric knowledge considered too profound or too sacred to be disclosed to anyone other than the initiated. For example, the disciples of the Gnostic Prodicus boasted that they possessed the secret (ἀπόκρυφα) books of Zoroaster. The term in general enjoyed high consideration among the Gnostics (see Acts of Thomas, pp. 10, 27, 44).[6]

Renowned Sinologist Anna Seidel refers to texts and even items produced by ancient Chinese sages as apocryphal and studied their uses during Six Dynasties China (A.D. 220 to 589). These artifacts were used as symbols legitimizing and guaranteeing the Emperor's Heavenly Mandate. Examples of these include talismans, charts, writs, tallies, and registers. The first examples were stones, jade pieces, bronze vessels and weapons, but came to include talismans and magic diagrams.[7] From their roots in Zhou era China (1066 to 256 B.C.) these items came to be surpassed in value by texts by the Han dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220). Most of these texts have been destroyed as Emperors, particularly during the Han dynasty, collected these legitimizing objects and proscribed, forbade and burnt nearly all of them to prevent them from falling into the hands of political rivals.[7] It is therefore fitting with the Greek root of the word, as these texts were obviously hidden away to protect the ruling Emperor from challenges to his status as Heaven's choice as sovereign.

Writings of questionable value

"Apocrypha" was also applied to writings that were hidden not because of their divinity but because of their questionable value to the church. Many in Protestant traditions cite Revelation 22:18–19 as a potential curse for those who attach any canonical authority to extra-biblical writings such as the Apocrypha. However, a strict explanation of this text would indicate it was meant for only the Book of Revelation. Rv.22:18–19f. (KJV) states: "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." In this case, if one holds to a strict hermeneutic, the "words of the prophecy" do not refer to the Bible as a whole but to Jesus' Revelation to John. Origen, in Commentaries on Matthew, distinguishes between writings which were read by the churches and apocryphal writings: γραφὴ μὴ φερομένη μέν ἒν τοῖς κοινοῖς καὶ δεδημοσιευμένοις βιβλίοις εἰκὸς δ' ὅτι ἒν ἀποκρύφοις φερομένη (writing not found on the common and published books in one hand, actually found on the secret ones on the other).[8] The meaning of αποκρυφος is here practically equivalent to "excluded from the public use of the church", and prepares the way for an even less favourable use of the word.[6]

Spurious writings

In general use, the word "apocrypha" came to mean "false, spurious, bad, or heretical." This meaning also appears in Origen's prologue to his commentary on the Song of Songs, of which only the Latin translation survives: De scripturis his, quae appellantur apocryphae, pro eo quod multa in iis corrupta et contra fidem veram inveniuntur a majoribus tradita non placuit iis dari locum nec admitti ad auctoritatem.[6] "Concerning these scriptures, which are called apocryphal, for the reason that many things are found in them corrupt and against the true faith handed down by the elders, it has pleased them that they not be given a place nor be admitted to authority."


Other uses of apocrypha developed over the history of Western Christianity. The Gelasian Decree (generally held now as being the work of an anonymous scholar between 519 and 553) refers to religious works by church fathers Eusebius, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria as apocrypha. Augustine defined the word as meaning simply "obscurity of origin," implying that any book of unknown authorship or questionable authenticity would be considered apocryphal. On the other hand, Jerome (in Protogus Galeatus) declared that all books outside the Hebrew canon were apocryphal.[6] In practice, Jerome treated some books outside the Hebrew canon as if they were canonical, and the Western Church did not accept Jerome's definition of apocrypha, instead retaining the word's prior meaning (see: Deuterocanon). As a result, various church authorities labeled different books as apocrypha, treating them with varying levels of regard.

Origen (who stated that "the canonical books, as the Hebrews have handed them down, are twenty-two"),[9] Clement and others cited some apocryphal books as "scripture," "divine scripture," "inspired," and the like. On the other hand, teachers connected with Palestine and familiar with the Hebrew canon excluded from the canon all of the Old Testament not found there. This view is reflected in the canon of Melito of Sardis, and in the prefaces and letters of Jerome.[6] A third view was that the books were not as valuable as the canonical scriptures of the Hebrew collection, but were of value for moral uses, as introductory texts for new converts from paganism, and to be read in congregations. They were referred to as "ecclesiastical" works by Rufinus.[6]

These three opinions regarding the apocryphal books prevailed until the Protestant Reformation, when the idea of what constitutes canon became a matter of primary concern for Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. In 1546 the Catholic Council of Trent reconfirmed the canon of Augustine, dating to the second and third centuries, declaring "He is also to be anathema who does not receive these entire books, with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church, and are found in the ancient editions of the Latin Vulgate, as sacred and canonical." The whole of the books in question, with the exception of 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, were declared canonical at Trent.[6] The Protestants, in comparison, were diverse in their opinion of the deuterocanon early on. Some considered them divinely inspired, others rejected them. Anglicans took a position between the Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches; they kept them as Christian intertestamental readings and a part of the Bible, but no doctrine should be based on them. John Wycliffe, a 14th-century Christian Humanist, had declared in his biblical translation that "whatever book is in the Old Testament besides these twenty-five shall be set among the apocrypha, that is, without authority or belief."[6] Nevertheless, his translation of the Bible included the apocrypha and the Epistle of the Laodiceans.[10]

Martin Luther did not class apocryphal books as being Scripture, but in both the German (1534) and English (1535) translations of the Bible, the apocrypha are published in a separate section from the other books, although the Lutheran and Anglican lists are different. In some editions (like the Westminster), readers were warned that these books were not "to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings." A milder distinction was expressed elsewhere, such as in the "argument" introducing them in the Geneva Bible, and in the Sixth Article of the Church of England, where it is said that "the other books the church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners," though not to establish doctrine.[6] Among some other Protestants, the term apocryphal began to take on extra or altered connotations: not just of dubious authenticity, but having spurious or false content.[3] not just obscure but having hidden or suspect motives.[citation needed] Protestants were (and are) not unanimous in adopting those meanings. The Church of England agreed, and that view continues today throughout the Lutheran Church, the worldwide Anglican Communion, and many other denominations.[citation needed] Whichever implied meaning is intended, Apocrypha was (and is) used primarily by Protestants, in reference to the books of questioned canonicity. Catholics and Orthodox sometimes avoid using the term in contexts where it might be disputatious or be misconstrued as yielding on the point of canonicity. Thus the respect accorded to apocryphal books varied between Protestant denominations. Most Protestant published Bibles that include the apocryphal books will relocate them into a separate section (rather like an appendix), so as not to intermingle them with their canonical books.

According to the Orthodox Anglican Church:
On the other hand, the Anglican Communion emphatically maintains that the Apocrypha is part of the Bible and is to be read with respect by her members. Two of the hymns used in the American Prayer Book office of Morning Prayer, the Benedictus es and Benedicite, are taken from the Apocrypha. One of the offertory sentences in Holy Communion comes from an apocryphal book (Tob. 4: 8–9). Lessons from the Apocrypha are regularly appointed to be read in the daily, Sunday, and special services of Morning and Evening Prayer. There are altogether 111 such lessons in the latest revised American Prayer Book Lectionary [The books used are: II Esdras, Tobit, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Three Holy Children, and I Maccabees.] The position of the Church is best summarized in the words of Article Six of the Thirty-nine Articles: "In the name of Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority there was never any doubt in the Church... And the other Books (as Hierome [St. Jerome] saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine."
With few exceptions, the 66 book Protestantism canon (such as listed in the Westminster Confession of 1646)[11] has been well established for centuries, and with many today contending against the Apocrypha using various arguments.[12][13][14]

Metaphorical Usage

The adjective apocryphal is commonly used in modern English to refer to any text or story considered to be of dubious veracity or authority, although it may contain some moral truth. In this broader metaphorical sense, the word suggests a claim that is in the nature of folklore, factoid or urban legend.



Main article: Jewish apocrypha

Although traditional rabbinical Judaism insists on the exclusive canonization of the current 24 books in the Tanakh, it also claims to have an oral law handed down from Moses. The Sadducees—unlike the Pharisees but like theSamaritans—seem to have maintained an earlier and smaller number of texts as canonical, preferring to hold to only what was written in the Law of Moses[15] (making most of the presently accepted canon, both Jewish and Christian, apocryphal in their eyes). Certain circles in Judaism, such as the Essenes in Judea and the Therapeutae in Egypt, were said to have a secret literature (see Dead Sea scrolls). Other traditions maintained different customs regarding canonicity.[16] The Ethiopic Jews, for instance, seem to have retained a spread of canonical texts similar to the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians,[17] cf Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol 6, p 1147. A large part of this literature consisted of the apocalypses. Based on prophecies, these apocalyptic books were not considered scripture by all, but rather part of a literary form that flourished from 200 BCE to CE 100.


Main article: Biblical apocrypha

During the birth of Christianity, some of the Jewish apocrypha that dealt with the coming of the Messianic kingdom became popular in the rising Jewish Christian communities. Occasionally these writings were changed or added to, but on the whole it was found sufficient to reinterpret them as conforming to a Christian viewpoint. Christianity eventually gave birth to new apocalyptic works, some of which were derived from traditional Jewish sources. Some of the Jewish apocrypha were part of the ordinary religious literature of the Early Christians. This was strange, as the large majority of Old Testament references in the New Testament are taken from the Greek Septuagint, which is the source of the deuterocanonical books[18] as well as most of the other biblical apocrypha.[19]

Slightly varying collections of additional Books (called deuterocanonical by the Roman Catholic Church) form part of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox canons. See Development of the Old Testament canon.

The Book of Enoch is included in the biblical canon only of the Oriental Orthodox churches of Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Epistle of Jude quotes the book of Enoch, and some believe the use of this book also appears in the four gospels and 1 Peter.[20][1] The genuineness and inspiration of Enoch were believed in by the writer of the Epistle of Barnabas, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria and much of the early church. The epistles of Paul and the gospels also show influences from the Book of Jubilees, which is part of the Ethiopian canon, as well as the Assumption of Moses and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, which are included in no biblical canon.

The high position which some apocryphal books occupied in the first two centuries was undermined by a variety of influences in the Christian church. All claims to the possession of a secret tradition (as held by many Gnosticsects) were denied by the influential theologians like Irenaeus and Tertullian, which modern historians refer to as the Proto-orthodox, the timeframe of true inspiration was limited to the apostolic age, and universal acceptance by the church was required as proof of apostolic authorship. As these principles gained currency, books deemed apocryphal tended to become regarded as spurious and heretical writings, though books now considered deuterocanonical have been used in liturgy and theology from the first century to the present.


Disputes over Canonicity

The actual status of the books which the Catholic church terms Deuterocanonicals ("second canon) and Protestantism refers to as Apocrypha has been an issue of disagreement which preceded the Reformation. Many believe that the pre-Christian-era Jewish translation (into Greek) of holy scriptures known as the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures originally compiled around 280 B.C., originally included the apocryphal writings in dispute, with little distinction made between them and the rest of the Old Testament. Others argue that the Septuagint of the first century did not contain these books but were added later by Christians,[21][22] The earliest extant manuscripts of the Septuagint are from the fourth century, and suffer greatly from a lack of uniformity as regards containing apocryphal books,[23][24][25] and some also contain books classed as Pseudepigrapha, from which texts were cited by some early writers in the second and later centuries as being Scripture.[3]

While a few scholars conclude that the Jewish canon was the achievement of the Hasmonean dynasty,[26] it is generally considered to not have been finalized until about 100 A.D.[27] or somewhat later, at which time considerations of Greek language and beginnings of Christian acceptance of the Septuagint weighed against some of the texts. Some were not accepted by the Jews as part of the Hebrew Bible canon and the Apocrypha is not part of the historical Jewish canon.

Early church fathers such as Athanasius, Melito, Origen, and Cyril of Jerusalem, spoke against the canonicity of much or all of the apocrypha,[21] but the most weighty opposition was the fourth century Catholic scholar Jeromewho preferred the Hebrew canon, whereas Augustine and others preferred the wider (Greek) canon,[28] with both having followers in the generations that followed. The Catholic Encyclopedia states as regards the Middle Ages,

"In the Latin Church, all through the Middle Ages [5th century to the 15th century] we find evidence of hesitation about the character of the deuterocanonicals. There is a current friendly to them, another one distinctly unfavourable to their authority and sacredness, while wavering between the two are a number of writers whose veneration for these books is tempered by some perplexity as to their exact standing, and among those we note St. Thomas Aquinas. Few are found to unequivocally acknowledge their canonicity." The prevailing attitude of Western medieval authors is substantially that of the Greek Fathers.[29]

The wider Christian canon accepted by Augustine became the more established canon in the western Church[30] after being promulgated for use in the Easter Letter of Athanasius (circa 372 A.D., though in the same letter he denied all apocryphal books as being Scripture, except for Baruch, while excluding Esther).[31] the Synod of Rome (382 A.D., but its Decretum Gelasianum is generally considered to be a much later addition[32] ) and the local councils of Carthage and Hippo in north Africa (391 and 393 A.D). Nevertheless, none of these constituted indisputable definitions, and significant scholarly doubts and disagreements about the nature of the Apocrypha continued for centuries and even into Trent,[33][34][35] which provided the first infallible definition of the Catholic canon in 1546.[36][37] This canon came to see appropriately 1,000 years of nearly uniform use by the majority, even after the 11th-century schism that separated the church into the branches known as the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

In the 16th century, the Protestant reformers challenged the canonicity of the books and partial-books found in the surviving Septuagint but not in the Masoretic Text. In response to this challenge, after the death of Martin Luther (February 8, 1546) the ecumenical Council of Trent officially ("infallibly") declared these books (called "deuterocanonical" by Catholics) to be part of the canon in April, 1546 A.D. While the Protestant Reformers rejected the parts of the canon that were not part of the Hebrew Bible, they included the four New Testament books Luther held as doubtful canonicity along with the Apocrypha in his non-binding canon (though most were separately included in his bible,[3] as they were in some editions of the KJV bible until 1947).[38] Protestantism therefore established a 66 book canon with the 39 books based on the ancient Hebrew canon, along with the traditional 27 books of the New Testament. Protestants also rejected the Catholic term "deuterocanonical" for these writings, preferring to apply the term "apocryphal" which was already in use for other early and disputed writings. As today (but along with others reasons),[21] various reformers argued that those books contained doctrinal or other errors and thus should not have been added to the canon for that reason. The differences between canons can be seen under Biblical canon and Development of the Christian biblical canon.

Explaining the Eastern Orthodox Church's canon is made difficult because of differences of perspective with the Roman Catholic church in the interpretation of how it was done. Those differences (in matters of jurisdictional authority) were contributing factors in the separation of the Roman Catholics and Orthodox around 1054, but the formation of the canon which Trent would later officially definitively settle was largely complete by the fifth century, in not settled, six centuries before the separation. In the eastern part of the church, it took much of the fifth century also to come to agreement, but in the end it was accomplished. The canonical books thus established by the undivided church became the predominate canon for what was later to become Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox alike. The East did already differ from the West in not considering every question of canon yet settled, and it subsequently adopted a few more books into its Old Testament. It also allowed consideration of yet a few more to continue not fully decided, which led in some cases to adoption in one or more jurisdictions, but not all. Thus, there are today a few remaining differences of canon among Orthodox, and all Orthodox accept a few more books than appear in the Catholic canon. The Psalms of Solomon, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, the Epistle of Jeremiahthe Book of Odes, the Prayer of Manasseh and Psalm 151 are included in some copies of the Septuagint,[39] some of which are accepted as canonical by Eastern Orthodox and some other churches. Protestants accept none of these additional books as canon either, but see them having roughly the same status as the other Apocrypha.

New Testament Apocrypha

Main article: New Testament apocrypha

New Testament apocrypha—books similar to those in the New Testament but almost universally rejected by Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants—include several gospels and lives of apostles. Some were written by early Jewish Christians (see the Gospel according to the Hebrews). Others of these were produced by Gnostic authors or members of other groups later defined as heterodox. Many texts believed lost for centuries were unearthed in the 19th and 20th centuries, producing lively speculation about their importance in early Christianity among religious scholars,[citation needed] while many others survive only in the form of quotations from them in other writings; for some, no more than the title is known. Artists and theologians have drawn upon the New Testament apocrypha for such matters as the names of Dismas and Gestas and details about the Three Wise Men. The first explicit mention of theperpetual virginity of Mary is found in the pseudepigraphical Infancy Gospel of James.

Before the fifth century, the Christian writings that were then under discussion for inclusion in the canon but had not yet been accepted were classified in a group known as the ancient antilegomenae. These were all candidates for the New Testament and included several books which were eventually accepted, such as: The Epistle to the Hebrews, 2 Peter, 3 John and the Revelation of John (Apocalypse). None of those accepted books can be considered Apocryphal now, since all Christendom accepts them as canonical. Of the uncanonized ones, the Early Church considered some heretical but viewed others quite well. Some Christians, in an extension of the meaning, might also consider the non-heretical books to be "apocryphal" along the manner of Martin Luther: not canon, but useful to read. This category includes books such as the Epistle of Barnabas, the Didache, and The Shepherd of Hermas which are sometimes referred to as the Apostolic Fathers. The Gnostic tradition was a prolific source of apocryphal gospels. While these writings borrowed the characteristic poetic features of apocalyptic literature from Judaism, Gnostic sects largely insisted on allegorical interpretations based on a secret apostolic tradition. With them, these apocryphal books were highly esteemed. A well-known Gnostic apocryphal book is theGospel of Thomas, the only complete text of which was found in the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945. The Gospel of Judas, a Gnostic gospel, also received much media attention when it was reconstructed in 2006.

Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians as well as Protestants generally agree on the canon of the New Testament, see Development of the New Testament canon. The Ethiopian Orthodox have in the past also included I & II Clement and Shepherd of Hermas in their New Testament canon.

* * * * * * * * *

New Testament Apocrypha
The New Testament apocrypha are a number of writings by early Christians that give accounts of Jesus and his teachings, the nature of God, or the teachings of his apostles and of their lives. Some of these writings have been cited as scripture by early Christians, but since the fifth century a widespread consensus has emerged limiting the New Testament to the27 books of the modern canon.[1][2] Thus Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches generally do not view these New Testament apocrypha as part of the Bible.[2]


The word "apocrypha" means "things put away" or "things hidden" and comes from the Greek through the Latin. The general term is usually applied to the books that were considered by the church as useful, but not divinely inspired. As such, to refer to Gnostic writings as "apocryphal" is misleading since they would not be classified in the same category by orthodox believers. Often used by the Greek Fathers was the term antilegomena, or "spoken against", although some canonical books were also spoken against, such as the Apocalypse of John in the East. Often used by scholars is the term pseudepigrapha, or "falsely inscribed" or "falsely attributed", in the sense that the writings were written by an anonymous author who appended the name of an apostle to his work, such as in the Gospel of Peter or The Æthiopic Apocalypse of Enoch: almost all books, in both Old and New Testaments, called "apocrypha" in the Protestant tradition are pseudepigrapha. In the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, what are called the apocrypha by Protestants include thedeuterocanonical books: in the Catholic tradition, the term "apocrypha" is synonymous with what Protestants would call the pseudepigrapha, the latter term of which is almost exclusively used by scholars.[3]


Development of the New Testament Canon[edit]

That some works are categorized as New Testament Apocrypha is indicative of the wide range of responses that were engendered in the interpretation of the message of Jesus ofNazareth. During the first several centuries of the transmission of that message, considerable debate turned on safeguarding its authenticity. Three key methods of addressing this survive to the present day: ordination, where groups authorize individuals as reliable teachers of the message; creeds, where groups define the boundaries of interpretation of the message; and canons, which list the primary documents certain groups believe contain the message originally taught by Jesus (in other words, the Bible). There was substantial debate about which books should be included in the canons. In general, those books that the majority regarded as the earliest books about Jesus were the ones included. Books that were not accepted into the canons are now termed apocryphal. Some of them were vigorously suppressed and survive only as fragments. The earliest lists of canonical works of the New Testament were not quite the same as modern lists; for example, the Book of Revelation was regarded as disputed by some Christians(see Antilegomena), while Shepherd of Hermas was considered genuine by others, and appears (after the Book of Revelation) in the Codex Sinaiticus.
The works that presented themselves as "authentic" but that did not obtain general acceptance from within the churches are called New Testament Apocrypha. These are not accepted as canonical by most mainstream Christian denominations; only the Ethiopian Orthodox Church recognizes the Shepherd of Hermas1 ClementActs of Paul, and several Old Testament books that most other denominations reject, but it should be noted that this church does not adhere to an explicit canon.[citation needed]
The Syriac Peshitta, used by all the various Syrian Churches, originally did not include 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation (and this canon of 22 books is the one cited by John Chrysostom (~347-407) and Theodoret(393-466) from the School of Antioch).[4] Western Syrians have added the remaining five books to their New Testament canons in modern times[4] (such as the Lee Peshitta of 1823). Today, the official lectionaries followed by theMalankara Syrian Orthodox Church and the East Syriac Chaldean Catholic Church, which is in communion with the Bishop of Rome, still only present lessons from the 22 books of the original Peshitta.[4]
The Armenian Apostolic church at times has included the Third Epistle to the Corinthians, but does not always list it with the other 27 canonical New Testament books. This Church did not accept Revelation into its Bible until 1200 CE.[5] The New Testament of the Coptic Bible, adopted by the Egyptian Church, includes the two Epistles of Clement.

Modern scholarship and translation[edit]

English translations were made in the early 18th century by William Wake and by Jeremiah Jones, and collected in 1820 by William Hone's Apocryphal New Testament.[6] The series Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 8, contains translations by Alexander Walker.[7] New translations by M. R. James appeared in 1924, and were revised by J.K. Eliott in 1991, The Apocryphal New Testament. The "standard" scholarly edition of the New Testament Apocrypha in German is that of Schneemelcher,[8] and in English its translation by Wilson (1991).
Tischendorf and other scholars began to study New Testament apocrypha seriously in the 19th century and produce new translations. The texts of the Nag Hammadi library are often considered separately but the current edition of Schneemelcher also contains eleven Nag Hammadi texts.[9]
Books that are known objectively not to have existed in antiquity are usually not considered part of the New Testament Apocrypha. Among these are the Libellus de Nativitate Sanctae Mariae (also called the "Nativity of Mary") and the Latin Infancy gospel. The latter two did not exist in antiquity, and they seem to be based on the earlier Infancy gospels.[citation needed]


Main articles: Gospel and List of gospels

Canonical gospels[edit]

Four gospels came to be accepted as part of the New Testament canon.

Infancy gospels[edit]

The rarity of information about the childhood of Jesus in the canonical gospels led to a hunger of early Christians for more detail about the early life of Jesus. This was supplied by a number of 2nd century and later texts, known as infancy gospels, none of which were accepted into the biblical canon, but the very number of their surviving manuscripts attests to their continued popularity.
Most of these were based on the earliest infancy gospels, namely the Infancy Gospel of James (also called the "Protoevangelium of James") and Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and on their later combination into the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (also called the "Infancy Gospel of Matthew" or "Birth of Mary and Infancy of the Saviour").
The other significant early infancy gospels are the Syriac Infancy Gospel, the History of Joseph the Carpenter and the Life of John the Baptist.

Jewish Christian gospels[edit]

The Jewish–Christian Gospels were gospels of a Jewish Christian character quoted by Clement of AlexandriaOrigenEusebiusEpiphaniusJerome and probably Didymus the Blind.[10] Most modern scholars have concluded that there was one gospel in Aramaic/Hebrew and at least two in Greek, although a minority argue that there were only two, Aramaic/Hebrew and Greek.[11]
None of these gospels survives today, but attempts have been made to reconstruct them from references in the Church Fathers. The reconstructed texts of the gospels are usually categorized under New Testament Apocrypha. The standard edition of Schneemelcher describes the texts of three Jewish–Christian gospels as follows:[12]
1) The Gospel of the Ebionites ("GE") – 7 quotations by Epiphanius.
2) The Gospel of the Hebrews ("GH") – 1 quotation ascribed to Cyril of Jerusalem, plus GH 2–7 quotations by Clement, Origen, and Jerome.
3) The Gospel of the Nazarenes ("GN") – GN 1 to GN 23 are mainly from Jerome; GN 24 to GN 36 are from medieval sources.
Some scholars consider that the 2 last named are in fact the same source.[13]

Non-canonical gospels[edit]

Other documents entitled "gospels" came into existence in the second and third Christian centuries. Sometimes, those attributed to the text state elsewhere that their text is the earlier version, or that their text excises all the additions and distortions made by their opponents to the more recognised version of the text. The Church Fathers insisted that these people were the ones making distortions, but some modern scholars do not. It remains to be seen whether any are earlier and more accurate versions of the canonical texts. Details of their contents only survive in the attacks on them by their opponents, and so for the most part it is uncertain as to how extensively different they are, and whether any constitute entirely different works. These texts include:

Sayings gospels[edit]

One or two texts take the form of brief logia—sayings and parables of Jesus—which are not embedded in a connected narrative:
Some scholars regard the Gospel of Thomas as part of the tradition from which the canonical gospels eventually emerged; in any case both of these documents are important as showing us what the theoretical Q documentmight have looked like.

Passion gospels[edit]

A number of gospels are concerned specifically with the "Passion" (arrest, execution and resurrection) of Jesus:
Although three texts take Bartholomew's name, it may be that one of the Questions of Bartholomew or the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is in fact the unknown Gospel of Bartholomew.

Harmonized gospels[edit]

A number of texts aim to provide a single harmonization of the canonical gospels, that eliminates discordances among them by presenting a unified text derived from them to some degree. The most widely read of these was theDiatessaron.

Gnostic texts[edit]

Main article: Gnostic gospels
In the modern era, many Gnostic texts have been uncovered, especially from the Nag Hammadi library. Some texts take the form of an expounding of the esoteric cosmology and ethics held by the Gnostics. Often this was in the form of dialogue in which Jesus expounds esoteric knowledge while his disciples raise questions concerning it. There is also a text, known as the Epistula Apostolorum, which is a polemic against Gnostic esoterica, but written in a similar style as the Gnostic texts.

Dialogues with Jesus[edit]

General texts concerning Jesus[edit]

Sethian texts concerning Jesus[edit]

The Sethians were a gnostic group who originally worshipped the biblical Seth as a messianic figure, later treating Jesus as a re-incarnation of Seth. They produced numerous texts expounding their esoteric cosmology, usually in the form of visions:

Ritual diagrams[edit]

Some of the Gnostic texts appear to consist of diagrams and instructions for use in religious rituals:


Several texts concern themselves with the subsequent lives of the apostles, usually with highly supernatural events. Almost half of these are said[who?] to have been written by Leucius Charinus (known as the Leucian Acts), a companion of John the apostle. The Acts of Thomas and the Acts of Peter and the Twelve are often considered Gnostic texts. While most of the texts are believed to have been written in the 2nd century, at least two, the Acts of Barnabas and the Acts of Peter and Paul are believed to have been written as late as the 5th century.


Main article: Epistles
There are also non-canonical epistles (or "letters") between individuals or to Christians in general. Some of them were regarded very highly by the early church:


Main article: Apocalyptic literature
Several works frame themselves as visions, often discussing the future, afterlife, or both:

Fate of Mary[edit]

Several texts (over 50) consist of descriptions of the events surrounding the varied fate of Mary (the mother of Jesus):
  • The Home Going of Mary
  • The Falling Asleep of the Mother of God
  • The Descent of Mary


These texts, due to their content or form, do not fit into the other categories:


In addition to the known apocryphal works, there are also small fragments of texts, parts of unknown (or uncertain) works. Some of the more significant fragments are:

Lost works[edit]

Several texts are mentioned in many ancient sources and would probably be considered part of the apocrypha, but no known text has survived:

Close candidates for canonization[edit]

While many of the books listed here were considered heretical (especially those belonging to the gnostic tradition—as this sect was considered heretical by Proto-orthodox Christianity of the early centuries), others were not considered particularly heretical in content, but in fact were well accepted as significant spiritual works.
While some of the following works appear in complete Bibles from the fourth century, such as 1 Clement and The Shepherd of Hermas, showing their general popularity, they were not included when the canon was formally decided at the end of that century.


Among historians of early Christianity the books are considered invaluable, especially those that almost made it into the final canon, such as Shepherd of HermasBart Ehrman, for example, said:
The victors in the struggles to establish Christian Orthodoxy not only won their theological battles, they also rewrote the history of the conflict; later readers then naturally assumed that the victorious views had been embraced by the vast majority of Christians from the very beginning ... The practice of Christian forgery has a long and distinguished history ... the debate lasted three hundred years ... even within "orthodox" circles there was considerable debate concerning which books to include.[14]
This debate primarily concerned whether certain works should be read in the church service or only privately. These works were widely used but not necessarily considered Catholic or 'universal.' Such works include the Didache, Shepherd of Hermas, 1 Clement, 2 Clement, the Epistle of Barnabas, and to a lesser extent the Apocalypse of Peter. Considering the generally accepted dates of authorship for all of the canonical New Testament works (ca. 100 AD), as well as the various witnesses to canonicity extant among the writings of Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, etc., the four gospels and letters of Paul were universally held as scriptural, and 200 years were needed to finalize the canon; from the beginning of the 2nd Century to the mid-4th Century, no book in the final canon was ever declared spurious or heretical, except for the Revelation of John which the Council of Laodicea in 363-364 AD rejected (although it accepted all of the other 26 books in the New Testament). This was possibly due to fears of the influence of Montanism which used the book extensively to support their theology. See Revelation of John for more details. Athanasius wrote his Easter letter in 367 AD which defined a canon of 27 books, identical to the current canon, but also listed two works that were "not in the canon but to be read:" The Shepherd of Hermas and theDidache. Nevertheless, the early church leaders in the 3rd and 4th Centuries generally distinguished between canonical works and those that were not canonical but 'useful,' or 'good for teaching,' though never relegating any of the final 27 books to the latter category. One aim with establishing the canon was to capture only those works which were held to have been written by the Apostles, or their close associates, and as the Muratorian fragmentcanon (ca. 150–175 AD) states concerning the Shepherd of Hermas:[citation needed]
...But Hermas wrote The Shepherd very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome, while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the chair of the church of the city of Rome. And therefore it ought indeed to be read; but it cannot be read publicly to the people in church either among the Prophets, whose number is complete, or among the Apostles, for it is after their time.[citation needed]

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