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Apocrypha [E] [H] [S]

"Apocrypha" comes from the Greek word apokrypha [ajpovkrufo"], which means "things that are hidden, secret." "The Apocrypha" refers to two collections of ancient Jewish and Christian writings that have certain affinities with the various books of the Old Testament and New Testament but were not canonized by Christians as a whole: the Old Testament Apocrypha, which are still viewed as canonical by some Christians, and the New Testament Apocrypha, which are not.

The Old Testament Apocrypha, often referred to simply as "the Apocrypha, " is a collection of Jewish books that are included in the Old Testament canons of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, but not of Protestants. Most of the books were composed in Hebrew prior to the Christian era, but they apparently never were accepted by the Jews as part of the Hebrew canon. At an early date they were translated into Greek and in this form came to be used by Christians as early as the end of the first century a.d. They were eventually included in Christian copies of the Greek Old Testament and, later, the Latin Vulgate. The Protestant Reformers, while affirming the unique authority of the Hebrew canon, allowed that the books of the Apocrypha were useful for reading. Over time, however, the Apocrypha has fallen into disuse among Protestants.

The Roman Catholic Apocrypha consists of Tobit, Judith, the Additions to Esther, the Additions to Daniel (the Prayer of Azariah and the Three Young Men, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon), the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach), Baruch (also called 1 Baruch), the Letter of Jeremiah, 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees. The Greek Orthodox Church adds 1 Esdras, Psalm 151, the Prayer of Manasseh, and 3 Maccabees, with 4 Maccabees in an appendix. The Russian Orthodox Church adds 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Psalm 151, and 3 Maccabees. The Roman Catholic canon places the Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Esdras, and 2 Esdras in an appendix without implying canonicity.

Several of these writings are tied closely to Old Testament books. First Esdras, for example, is primarily a retelling of the material found in 2 Chronicles 35:1-36:23, Ezra, and Nehemiah 7:6-8:12; Psalm 151 purports to be an additional psalm of David. More interesting are the Additions to Esther. Inserted at strategic points, these clearly secondary additions, which include among other things prayers by Mordecai and Esther, serve to give a distinctively religious slant to the Book of Esther, otherwise noted for its failure to mention God or even prayer. The Additions to Daniel have a less unified purpose. Susanna (chapter 13 of the Greek Daniel) is a delightful little story affirming God's vindication of those who hope in him, and Bel and the Dragon (chapter 14 of the Greek Daniel) exposes the folly of idolatry. The Prayer of Azariah and the Three Young Men, placed after Daniel 3:23, is a prayer of trust in God offered up by Azariah (i.e., Abednego — Dan 1:7 ) and his companions (Shadrach and Meshach) in the fiery furnace. It is noteworthy for its expression of confidence that God will accept the sacrifice of a contrite heart and a humble spirit. Another noteworthy (and secondary) prayer is the Prayer of Manasseh, apparently composed to give content to the prayer of repentance offered by Manasseh that is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 33:12-13. It includes a powerful expression of contrition for sin and trust in the grace of God. Two books are associated with Jeremiah: the Letter of Jeremiah is an attack on idolatry, and Baruch, attributed to Jeremiah's secretary (cf. Jer 36:4-8 ), extols the virtues of Wisdom, which is identified with the Law.

Two other Wisdom books are contained in the Apocrypha. The Wisdom of Solomon, ostensibly related to Solomon, deliberates on the future reward of the righteous and punishment of the ungodly, sings the praises of Wisdom, and, through a retelling of the exodus story, celebrates God's exaltation of Israel through the very things by which her enemies were punished. Affirmations, among other things, of the preexistence and immortality of the soul indicate a considerable degree of Greek influence upon the author. Ecclesiasticus contains the teachings, in a form resembling that of the Book of Proverbs, of a second century b.c. Jewish teacher named Jesus ben Sira. The author praises and personifies (cf. Prov 8:22-31 ) Wisdom, whom he identifies with the Law, and provides practical precepts for everyday living. The book contains numerous parallels to the ethical sections of the New Testament, especially the Book of James.

Two of the most popular books in the Apocrypha tell the stories, undoubtedly legendary, of two otherwise unknown Jews. Set in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, Judith is a vivid and dramatic narrative of a beautiful Jewish widow, who, through a combination of extraordinary courage and trust in God, delivers her people in a time of crisis. Tobit, purportedly from the time of the Assyrian exile, combines the themes of quest, romance, and overcoming the demonic in a story of God's healing of his faithful servant Tobit and deliverance of the unfortunate widow Sarah. It testifies to a developing demonology and angelology within Judaism, and emphasizes the importance of charitable deeds, containing some striking parallels to the ethical teaching in the New Testament, including a negative form of the Golden Rule (cf. Matt 7:12 ).

Four books are associated, in name at least, with the Maccabees, those Jewish heroes who, led by Judas Maccabeus, waged the Maccabean Revolt in the second century b.c. against the Greek tyrant Antiochus IV, who attempted to ban the practice of Judaism. First Maccabees, the longest and most detailed account, is an especially important historical source for the revolt. Apart from his obvious support of the revolt and opposition to the hellenization of Judaism that preceded it, the author's primary religious perspective seems to be that God or, rather, heaven helps those who take initiative and trust in him. Second Maccabees is more openly theological and affirms such ideas as the glories of martyrdom, the sufferings of the martyr as being expiatory for the sins of the nation, the resurrection of the body, prayer for the dead, and the intercession of the saints. Both books are of first importance for understanding the historical setting for Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of rededication of the temple, which originates from the Maccabean Revolt.

Fourth Maccabees, an imaginative elaboration on the martyrdoms in 2 Maccabees, is a distinctive melding of Greek and Jewish ideas. Affirming the immortality of the righteous and the eternal punishment of the wicked, the author seeks to demonstrate that inspired reason, guided by the Law, is supreme ruler over the passions. Third Maccabees tells not of the Maccabees, but of the plight of Egyptian Jews near the end of the third century b.c.; its focus is on God's faithfulness to his people.

Second Esdras, purportedly composed by Ezra, was written in response to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in a.d. 70. Second Esdras centers around the theme of God's justice in the light of the devastating defeat of his people Israel by a godless nation. It includes significant discussions on the nature of sin and its connection with Adam (cf. Rom. 5), the limitations of human understanding, the signs of the end, the final judgment, the intermediate state between death and the final judgment, the destruction of the Roman Empire, and the coming Messiah. Both in its overall orientation and in many of its details, 2 Esdras contains a number of striking parallels to the Book of Revelation, with which it is contemporary.

The Jews wrote numerous other works that are not included in any Christian canon. Many of them were attributed to major Old Testament figures; they are called the Pseudepigrapha. Although the literature is too vast and varied to summarize here, many Pseudepigrapha contain visionary journeys through heaven (or a series of heavens) and hell, an increased interest in angels and demons, speculations on the origins of sin and the nature of the final judgment, various expectations of a Messiah, predictions of the end of time, and ethical exhortations. The Pseudepigrapha attest to the rich theological diversity within Judaism during the intertestamental period.

The New Testament Apocrypha is an amorphous collection of writings that are for the most part either about, or pseudonymously attributed to, New Testament figures. These books are generally modeled after the literary forms found in the New Testament: there are apocryphal gospels, acts, letters, and revelations. Unlike the Old Testament Apocrypha, the New Testament Apocrypha have never been viewed as canonical by any of the major branches of Christianity, nor is there any reason to believe that the traditions they record have any historical validity. Nonetheless, some of these books were widely used by Christians throughout the Middle Ages and have left their mark on the church.

Numerous apocryphal gospels were produced by early Christians. Many of them, such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and the Dialogue of the Savior, were composed by heretical groups like the Gnostics and purport to give "secret, " unorthodox teachings of Jesus. Others fill in gaps in the New Testament Gospels, usually with a heightened sense of the miraculous. The Protevangelium of James, for example, tells the story of Mary's birth, childhood, and eventual marriage to Joseph (a widower with children), culminating in a detailed account of the birth of Jesus (in a cave) and a strong affirmation of Mary's virginity. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas narrates Jesus' childhood from age five to age twelve, with the child Jesus performing numerous miracles, sometimes to the point of absurdity (e.g., bringing clay sparrows to life). The Gospel of Nicodemus (also called the Acts of Pilate), provides a detailed account of Jesus' trial and descent into hell. The Gospel of Peter presents, after an otherwise straightforward account of the crucifixion, a vivid narration of the resurrection of Jesus: two angels come down from heaven, enter the tomb, and exit with Jesus, followed by a talking Cross.

The apocryphal Acts (Acts of Andrew, Acts of John, Acts of Paul, Acts of Peter, and Acts of Thomas) purport to trace the journeys of the apostles, with Thomas going all the way to India. Three features in these books stand out. First, they are filled with supernatural deeds: miracles abound, especially the raising of the dead, and even a talking lion gets baptized. Second, they promote a celibate lifestyle, even among husbands and wives. Third, they glorify martyrdom, especially among the apostles: Andrew is crucified, Paul is beheaded, Peter is crucified upside down, and Thomas is executed with spears; only John is spared a martyr's death.

There are also apocryphal letters (e.g.,3 Corinthians, Letter to the Laodiceans [cf. Col 4:16 , and Pseudo-Titus ), which tend to reflect heretical notions, and apocryphal apocalypses (e.g., Apocalypse of Peter and Apocalypse of Paul). The latter present, in contrast to the relatively reserved statements in the New Testament, vivid descriptions of hell, where sinners are punished in accordance with their sins: blasphemers, for example, hang by their tongues over a blazing fire. In addition, the Apocalypse of Paul purports to give a detailed narration of Paul's rapture to the third heaven (cf. 2 Col 12:2 ).

Apart from the issue of canonicity, the Old Testament Apocrypha has had a pronounced and pervasive influence on Western culture. The stories, themes, and language of these books (especially Judith, Tobit, Susanna, the Maccabees, Ecclesiasticus, and the Wisdom of Solomon) have been utilized by literary figures such as Shakespeare, Milton, and Longfellow, composers such as Charles Wesley, Handel, and Rubinstein, and artists such as Michaelangelo, Rembrandt, and van Dyck. The New Testament Apocrypha, though less influential, has contributed to the traditions about Jesus and the travels and fate of the apostles, not to mention the development of the Christian concept of hell, most notably through the Inferno of Dante.

Joseph L. Trafton

See also Bible, Canon of the

Bibliography. J. H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha; J. K. Elliott, ed., The Apocryphal New Testament; E. Hennecke and W. Schneemelcher, eds., New Testament Apocrypha; B. M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha; G. W. E. Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah; E. Schrer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ; H. F. D. Sparks, ed., The Apocryphal Old Testament; M. E. Stone, ed., Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[H] indicates this entry was also found in Hitchcock's Bible Names
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Apocrypha'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.

Apocrypha [B] [H] [S]

hidden, spurious, the name given to certain ancient books which found a place in the LXX. and Latin Vulgate versions of the Old Testament, and were appended to all the great translations made from them in the sixteenth century, but which have no claim to be regarded as in any sense parts of the inspired Word.

  • They are not once quoted by the New Testament writers, who frequently quote from the LXX. Our Lord and his apostles confirmed by their authority the ordinary Jewish canon, which was the same in all respects as we now have it.

  • These books were written not in Hebrew but in Greek, and during the "period of silence," from the time of Malachi, after which oracles and direct revelations from God ceased till the Christian era.

  • The contents of the books themselves show that they were no part of Scripture. The Old Testament Apocrypha consists of fourteen books, the chief of which are the Books of the Maccabees (q.v.), the Books of Esdras, the Book of Wisdom, the Book of Baruch, the Book of Esther, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Judith, etc.

    The New Testament Apocrypha consists of a very extensive literature, which bears distinct evidences of its non-apostolic origin, and is utterly unworthy of regard.

    These dictionary topics are from
    M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
    published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

    [B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
    [H] indicates this entry was also found in Hitchcock's Bible Names
    [S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

    Bibliography Information

    Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Apocrypha". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .

  • Apocrypha [B] [E] [S]

    Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names. Public Domain. Copy freely.

    [B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
    [E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
    [S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

    Bibliography Information

    Hitchcock, Roswell D. "Entry for 'Apocrypha'". "An Interpreting Dictionary of Scripture Proper Names". . New York, N.Y., 1869.

    Apocrypha [B] [E] [H]

    (concealed, hidden ).

    1. Old Testament Apocrypha ._The collection of books to which this term is popularly applied includes the following (the order given is that in which they stand in the English version); I. 1 Esdras; II. 2 Esdras; III. Tobit; IV. Judith; V. The rest of the chapters of the book of Esther, which are found neither in the Hebrew nor in the Chaldee; VI. The Wisdom of Solomon; VII. The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus; VII. Baruch; IX. The Song of the Three Holy Children, X. The History of Susanna; XI. The History of the destruction of Bel and the Dragon; XII. The Prayer of Manasses king of Judah; XIII. 1 Maccabee; XIV. 2 Maccabees. The primary meaning of apocrypha , "hidden, secret," seems, toward the close of the second century to have been associated with the signification "spurious," and ultimately to have settled down into the latter. The separate books of this collection are treated of in distinct articles. Their relation to the canonical books of the Old Testament is discussed under CANON.
    2. New Testament Apocrypha -- (A collection of legendary and spurious Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and Epistles. They are go entirely inferior to the genuine books, so full of nonsensical and unworthy stories of Christ and the apostles, that they have never been regarded as divine, or bound up in our Bibles. It is said that Mohammed obtained his ideas of Christ entirely from these spurious gospels.--ED.)

    [B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
    [E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
    [H] indicates this entry was also found in Hitchcock's Bible Names

    Bibliography Information

    Smith, William, Dr. "Entry for 'Apocrypha'". "Smith's Bible Dictionary". . 1901.





    1. Original Meanings

    (1) Classical

    (2) Hellenistic

    (3) In the New Testament

    (4) Patristic

    2. "Esoteric" in Greek Philosophy, etc.


    1. Early Christian Usage

    "Apocalyptic" Literature

    2. The Eastern Church

    (1) "Esoteric" Literature (Clement of Alexandria, etc.)

    (2) Change to "Religious" Books (Origen, etc.)

    (3) "Spurious" Books (Athanasius, Nicephorus, etc.)

    (4) "List of Sixty"

    3. The Western Church

    (1) The Decretum Gelasii

    (2) "Non-Canonical" Books

    4. The Reformers

    Separation from Canonical Books

    5. Heb Words for "Apocrypha"

    (1) Do Such Exist?

    (2) Views of Zahn, Schurer, Porter, etc. (ganaz, genuzim)

    (3) Reasons for Rejection

    6. Summary


    1. List of Books

    2. Classification of Books




    I. Definition.

    The word Apocrypha, as usually understood, denotes the collection of religious writings which the Septuagint and Vulgate (with trivial differences) contain in addition to the writings constituting the Jewish and Protestant canon. This is not the original or the correct sense of the word, as will be shown, but it is that which it bears almost exclusively in modern speech. In critical works of the present day it is customary to speak of the collection of writings now in view as "the Old Testament Apocrypha," because many of the books at least were written in Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, and because all of them are much more closely allied to the Old Testament than to the New Testament. But there is a "New" as well as an "Old" Testament Apocrypha consisting of gospels, epistles, etc. Moreover the adjective "Apocryphal" is also often applied in modern times to what are now generally called "Pseudepigraphical writings," so designated because ascribed in the titles to authors who did not and could not have written them (eg. Enoch, Abraham, Moses, etc.). The persons thus connected with these books are among the most distinguished in the traditions and history of Israel, and there can be no doubt that the object for which such names have been thus used is to add weight and authority to these writings.

    The late Professor E. Kautzsch of Halle edited a German translation of the Old and New Testament Apocrypha, and of the Pseudepigraphical writings, with excellent introductions and valuable notes by the best German scholars. Dr. Edgar Hennecke has edited a similar work on the New Testament Apocrypha. Nothing in the English language can be compared with the works edited by Kautzsch and Hennecke in either scholarship or usefulness. (A similar English work to that edited by Kautzsch is now passing through the (Oxford) press, Dr. R. H. Charles being the editor, the writer of this article being one of the contributors.)

    II. The Name Apocrypha.

    The investigation which follows will show that when the word "Apocryphal" was first used in ecclesiastical writings it bore a sense virtually identical with "esoteric":

    so that "apocryphal writings" were such as appealed to an inner circle and could not be understood by outsiders. The present connotation of the term did not get fixed until the Protestant Reformation had set in, limiting the Biblical canon to its present dimensions among Protestant churches.

    1. Original Meanings:

    (1) Classical.

    The Greek adjective apokruphos, denotes strictly "hidden," "concealed," of a material object (Eurip. Here. Fur. 1070). Then it came to signify what is obscure, recondite, hard to understand (Xen. Mem. 3.5, 14). But it never has in classical Greek any other sense.

    (2) Hellenistic.

    In Hellenistic Greek as represented by the Septuagint and the New Testament there is no essential departure from classical usage. In the Septuagint (or rather Theodotion's version) of Daniel 11:43 it stands for "hidden" as applied to gold and silver stores. But the word has also in the same text the meaning "what is hidden away from human knowledge and understanding." So Daniel 2:20 (Theod.) where the apokrupha or hidden things are the meanings of Nebuchadnezzar's dream revealed to Daniel though "hidden" from the wise men of Babylon. The word has the same sense in Sirach 14:21; 39:3,7; 42:19; 48:25; 43:32.

    (3) In the New Testament.

    In the New Testament the word occurs but thrice, namely, Mark 4:22 and the parallel Luke 8:17; Colossians 2:3. In the last passage Bishop Lightfoot thought we have in the word apokruphoi (treasures of Christ hidden) an allusion to the vaunted esoteric knowledge of the false teachers, as if Paul meant to say that it is in Christ alone we have true wisdom and knowledge and not in the secret books of these teachers. Assuming this, we have in this verse the first example of apokruphos in the sense "esoteric." But the evidence is against so early a use of the term in this--soon to be its prevailing--sense. Nor does exegesis demand such a meaning here, for no writings of any kind seem intended.

    (4) Patristic.

    In patristic writings of an early period the adjective apokruphos came to be applied to Jewish and Christian writings containing secret knowledge about the future, etc., intelligible only to the small number of disciples who read them and for whom they were believed to be specially provided. To this class of writings belong in particular those designated Apocalyptic (see APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE), and it will be seen as thus employed that apokruphos has virtually the meaning of the Greek esoterikos.

    2. "Esoteric" in Greek Philosophy, etc.:

    A brief statement as to the doctrine in early Greek philosophy will be found helpful at this point. From quite early times the philosophers of ancient Greece distinguished between the doctrines and rites which could be taught to all their pupils, and those which could profitably be communicated only to a select circle called the initiated. The two classes of doctrines and rites--they were mainly the latter--were designated respectively "exoteric" and "esoteric." Lucian (died 312; see Vit. Auct. 26) followed by many others referred the distinction to Aristotle, but as modern scholars agree, wrongly, for the exoterikoi logoi, of that philosopher denote popular treatises. The Pythagoreans recognized and observed these two kinds of doctrines and duties and there is good reason for believing that they created a corresponding double literature though unfortunately no explicit examples of such literature have come down to us.

    In the Greek mysteries (Orphic, Dionysiac, Eleusinian, etc.) two classes of hearers and readers are implied all through, though it is a pity that more of the literature bearing on the question has not been preserved. Among the Buddhists the Samga forms a close society open originally to monks or bhikhus admitted only after a most rigid examination; but in later years nuns (bhikshunis) also have been allowed admission, though in their case too after careful testing. The Vinaya Pitaka or "Basket of Discipline" contains the rules for entrance and the regulations to be observed after entrance. But this and kindred literature was and is still held to be caviare to outsiders. See translation in the Sacred Books of the East, XI (Rhys Davids and Oldenberg).

    III. Usage as to Apocrypha.

    It must be borne in mind that the word apocrypha is really a Greek adjective in the neuter plural, denoting strictly "things hidden." But almost certainly the noun biblia is understood, so that the real implication of the word is "apocryphal books" or "writings." In this article apocrypha will be employed in the sense of this last, and apocryphal as the equivalent of the Greek apokruphos.

    1. Early Christian Usage:

    "Apocalyptic" literature.

    The word apocrypha was first used technically by early Christian writers for the Jewish and Christian writings usually classed under "Apocalyptic" (see APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE). In this sense it takes the place of the classical Greek word esoterika and bears the same general meaning, namely, writings intended for an inner circle and cap. able of being understood by no others. These writings give intimations regarding the future, the ultimate triumph of the kingdom of God, etc., beyond, it was thought, human discovery and also beyond the intelligence of the uninitiated. In this sense Gregory of Nyssa (died 395; De Ordin., II, 44) and Epiphanius (died 403; Haeres, 51 3) speak of the Apocalypse of John as "apocryphal."

    2. The Eastern Church:

    Christianity itself has nothing corresponding to the idea of a doctrine for the initiated or a literature for a select few. The gospel was preached in its first days to the poor and ignorant, and the reading and studying of the sacred Scriptures have been urged by the churches (with some exceptions) upon the public at large.

    (1) "Esoteric" Literature (Clement of Alexandria, etc.).

    The rise of this conception in the eastern church is easily understood. When devotees of Greek philosophy accepted the Christian faith it was natural for them to look at the new religion through the medium of the old philosophy. Many of them read into the canonical writings mystic meanings, and embodied those meanings in special books, these last becoming esoteric literature in themselves:

    and as in the case of apocalyptic writings, this esoteric literature was more revered than the Bible itself. In a similar way there grew up among the Jews side by side with the written law an oral law containing the teaching of the rabbis and regarded as more sacred and authoritative than the writings they profess to expound. One may find some analogy in the fact that among many Christians the official literature of the denomination to which they belong has more commanding force than the Bible itself. This movement among Greek Christians was greatly aided by Gnostic sects and the esoteric literature to which they gave rise. These Gnostics had been themselves influenced deeply by Babylonian and Persian mysticism and the corresponding literature. Clement of Alexandria (died 220) distinctly mentions esoteric books belonging to the Zoroastrian (Mazdean) religion.

    Oriental and especially Greek Christianity tended to give to philosophy the place which the New Testament and western Christianity assign the Old Testament. The preparation for the religion of Jesus was said to be in philosophy much more than in the religion of the Old Testament. It will be remembered that Marcian (died end of 2nd century AD), Thomas Morgan, the Welsh 18th-century deist (died 1743) and Friedrich Schleiermacher (died 1834) taught this very same thing.

    Clement of Alexandria (see above) recognized 4 (2) Esdras (to be hereafter called the Apocalypse of Ezra), the Assumption of Moses, etc., as fully canonical. In addition to this he upheld the authority and value of esoterical books, Jewish, Christian, and even heathen. But he is of most importance for our present purpose because he is probably the earliest Greek writer to use the word apocrypha as the equivalent of esoterika, for he describes the esoteric books of Zoroastrianism as apocryphal.

    But the idea of esoteric religious literature existed at an earlier time among the Jews, and was borrowed from them by Christians. It is clearly taught in the Apocalyptic Esdras (2 or 4 Esd) chapter 14, where it is said that Ezra aided by five amanuenses produced under Divine inspiration 94 sacred books, the writings of Moses and the prophets having been lost when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. Of this large number of sacred books 24 were to be published openly, for the unworthy as well as the worthy, these 24 books representing undoubtedly the books of the Hebrew Old Testament. The remaining 70 were to be kept for the exclusive use of the "wise among the people":

    i.e. they were of an esoteric character. Perhaps if the Greek original of this book had been preserved the word "apocrypha" would have been found as an epithetic attached to the 70 books. Our English versions are made from a Latin original EZRA or the \ESDRAS, THE SECOND (FOURTH) BOOK OF; APOCALYPTIC ESDRAS\. Modern scholars agree that in its present form this book arose in the reign of Domitian 81-96 AD. So that the conception of esoteric literature existed among the Jews in the 1st century of our era, and probably still earlier.

    It is significant of the original character of the religion of Israel that no one has been able to point to a Hebrew word corresponding to esoteric (see below). When among the Jews there arose a literature of oral tradition it was natural to apply to this last the Greek notion of esoteric, especially as this class of literature was more highly esteemed in many Jewish circles than the Old Testament Scriptures themselves.

    (2) Change to "Religious" Books (Origen, etc.).

    The next step in the history of the word "apocrypha" is that by which it came to denote religious books inferior in authority and worth to the Scriptures of the Old Testament and New Testament. This change of attitude toward noncanonical writings took place under the influence of two principles:

    (1) that no writer could be inspired who lived subsequent to the apostolic age; (2) that no writing could be recognized as canonical unless it was accepted as such by the churches in general (in Latin the principle was--quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus). Now it was felt that many if not most of the religious writings which came in the end of the 2nd century to be called "apocryphal" in a disparaging sense had their origin among heretical sects like the Gnostics, and that they had never commanded the approval of the great bulk of the churches. Origen (died 253) held that we ought to discriminate between books called "apocryphal," some such having to be firmly rejected as teaching what is contrary to the Scriptures. More and more from the end of the 2nd century, the word "apocrypha" came to stand for what is spurious and untrustworthy, and especially for writings ascribed to authors who did not write them: i.e. the so-called "Pseudepigraphical books."

    Irenaeus (died 202) in opposition to Clement of Alexandria denies that esoteric writings have any claims to credence or even respect, and he uses the Greek word for "apocryphal" to describe all Jewish and Christian canons. To him, as later to Jerome (died 420), "canonical" and "apocryphal" were antithetic terms. Tertullian (died 230) took the same view:

    "apocryphal" to him denoted non-canonical. But both Irenaeus and Tertullian meant by apocrypha in particular the apocalyptic writings. During the Nicene period, and even earlier, sacred books were divided by Christian teachers into three classes:

    (1) books that could be read in church;

    (2) books that could be read privately, but not in public;

    (3) books that were not to be read at all. This classification is implied in the writings of Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius (died 373), and in the Muratorian Fragments (about 200 AD).

    (3) "Spurious" Books (Athanasius, Nicephorus, etc.).

    Athanasius, however, restricted the word apocrypha to the third class, thus making the corresponding adjective synonymous with "spurious." Nicephorus, patriarch of Constantinople (806-15 AD) in his chronography (belonging essentially to 500 AD according to Zahn) divides sacred books thus:

    (1) the canonical books of the Old Testament and New Testament;

    (2) the Antilegomena of both Testaments;

    (3) the Apocrypha of both Testaments.

    The details of the Apocrypha of the New Testament are thus enumerated:

    (1) Enoch;

    (2) The 12 Patriarchs;

    (3) The Prayer of Joseph;

    (4) The Testament of Moses;

    (5) The Assumption of Moses;

    (6) Abram;

    (7) Eldad and Modad;

    (8) Elijah the Prophet;

    (9) Zephaniah the Prophet;

    (10) Zechariah, father of John;

    (11) The Pseudepigrapha of Baruch, Habakkuk, Ezekiel and Daniel.

    The books of the New Testament Apocrypha are thus given:

    (1) The Itinerary of Paul;

    (2) The Itinerary of Peter;

    (3) The Itinerary of John;

    (4) The Itinerary of Thomas;

    (5) The Gospel according to Thomas;

    (6) The Teaching of the Apostles (the Didache);

    (7) and (8) The Two Epistles of Clement;

    (9) Epistles of Ignatius, Polycarp and Hermas.

    The above lists are repeated in the so-called Synopsis of Athanasius. The authors of these so-called apocryphal books being unknown, it was sought to gain respect for these writers by tacking onto them well-known names, so that, particularly in the western church, "apocryphal" came to be almost synonymous with "pseudepigraphical." Of the Old Testament lists given above numbers 1, 2, 4, 5 are extant wholly or in part. Numbers 3, 7, 8 and 9 are lost though quoted as genuine by Origen and other eastern Fathers. They are all of them apocalypses designated apocrypha in accordance with early usage.

    (4) "List of Sixty."

    In the anonymous, "List of Sixty," which hails from the 7th century, we have represented probably the attitude of the eastern church. It divides sacred books into three classes:

    (1) The sixty canonical books. Since the Protestant canon consists of but 57 books it will be seen that in this list books outside our canon are included.

    (2) Books excluded from the 60, yet of superior authority to those mentioned as apocryphal in the next class. (3) Apocryphal books, the names of which are as follows:

    (a) Adam;

    (b) Enoch;

    (c) Lamech;

    (d) The 12 Patriarchs;

    (e) The Prayer of Joseph;

    (f) Eldad and Modad;

    (g) The Testament of Moses;

    (h) The Assumption of Moses;

    (i) The Psalms of Solomon;

    (j) The Apocalypse of Elijah;

    (k) The Ascension of Isaiah;

    (l) The Apocalypse of Zephaniah (see number 9 of the Old Testament Apocrypha books mentioned in the Chronography of Nicephorus);

    (m) The Apocalypse of Zechariah;

    (n) The Apocalyptic Ezra;

    (o) The History of James;

    (p) The Apocalypse of Peter;

    (q) The Itinerary and Teaching of the Apostles;

    (r) The Epistles of Barnabas;

    (s) The Ac of Paul;

    (t) Apocalypse of Paul;

    (u) Didascalia of Clement;

    (v) Didascalia of Ignatius;

    (w) Didascalia of Polycarp;

    (x) Gospel according to Barnabas;

    (y) Gospel according to Matthew.

    The greater number of these books come under the designation "apocryphal" in the early sense of "apocalyptic," but by this time the word had taken on a lower meaning, namely, books not good for even private reading. Yet the fact that these books are mentioned at all show that they were more highly esteemed than heathen and than even heretical Christian writings. The eastern churches down to the present day reject the meaning of "apocrypha" current among Protestants (see definition above), and their Bible includes the Old Testament Apocrypha, making no distinction between it and the rest of the Bible.

    3. The Western Church:

    (1) The Decretum Gelasii.

    In the western church the word apocrypha and the corresponding adjective had a somewhat different history. In general it may be said that the western church did not adopt the triple division of sacred books prevalent in the eastern church. Yet the Decretum Gelasii (6th century in its present form) has a triple. list which is almost certainly that of the Roman synod of 382 under Damasus, bishop of Rome, 366 to 384. It is as follows:

    (1) the canonical books of both Testaments;

    (2) writings of the Fathers approved by the church;

    (3) apocryphal books rejected by the church.

    Then there is added a list of miscellaneous books condemned as heretical, including even the works of Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Eusebius, these works being all branded as "apocryphal." On the other hand Gregory of Nyssa and Epiphanius, both writing in the 4th century, use the word "apocrypha" in the old sense of apocalyptic, i.e. esoteric.

    (2) "Non-Canonical" Books.

    Jerome (died 420) in the Prologus Galeatus (so called because it was a defense and so resembled a helmeted warrior) or preface to his Latin version of the Bible uses the word "Apocrypha" in the sense of non-canonical books. His words are:

    Quidquid extra hos (i.e. the 22 canonical books) inter Apocrypha ponendum: "Anything outside of these must be placed within the Apocrypha" (when among the Fathers and rabbis the Old Testament is made to contain 22 (not 24) books, Ru and Lamentations are joined respectively to Judges and Jeremiah). He was followed in this by Rufinus (died circa 410), in turns Jerome's friend and adversary, as he had been anticipated by Irenaeus. The western church as a whole departed from Jerome's theory by including the antilegomena of both Testaments among the canonical writings: but the general custom of western Christians about this time was to make apocryphal mean non-canonical. Yet Augustine (died 430; De Civitale Dei, XV, 23) explained the "apocrypha" as denoting obscurity of origin or authorship, and this sense of the word became the prevailing one in the West.

    4. The Reformers:

    Separation from Canonical Books.

    But it is to the Reformers that we are indebted for the habit of using Apocrypha for a collection of books appended to the Old Testament and generally up to 1827 appended to every printed English Bible. Bodenstein of Carlstadt, usually called Carlstadt (died 1541), an early Reformer, though Luther's bitter personal opponent, was the first modern scholar to define "Apocrypha" quite clearly as writings excluded from the canon, whether or not the true authors of the books are known, in this, going back to Jerome's position. The adjective "apocryphal" came to have among Protestants more and more a disparaging sense. Protestantism was in its very essence the religion of a book, and Protestants would be sure to see to it that the sacred volume on which they based their religion, including the reforms they introduced, contained no book but those which in their opinion had the strongest claims to be regarded as authoritative.

    In the eastern and western churches under the influence of the Greek (Septuagint) and Latin (Vulgate) versions the books of the Apocrypha formed an integral part of the canon and were scattered throughout the Old Testament, they being placed generally near books with which they have affinity. Even Protestant Bibles up to 1827 included the Apocrypha, but as one collection of distinct writings at the end of the Old Testament. It will be seen from what has been said that notwithstanding the favorable attitude toward it of the eastern and western churches, from the earliest times, our Apocrypha was regarded with more or less suspicion, and the suspicion would be strengthened by the general antagonism toward it. In the Middle Ages, under the influence of Reuchlin (died 1532)--great scholar and Reformer--Hebrew came to be studied and the Old Testament read in its original language. The fact that the Apocrypha is absent from the Hebrew canon must have had some influence on the minds of the Reformers.

    Moreover in the Apocrypha there are parts inconsistent with Protestant principles, as for example the doctrines of prayers for the dead, the intercession of the saints, etc. The Jews in the early Christian centuries had really two Bibles:

    (1) There was the Hebrew Bible which does not include the Apocrypha, and which circulated in Palestine and Babylon; (2) there was the Greek version (Septuagint) used by Greek-speaking Jews everywhere. Until in quite early times, instigated by the use made of it by Christians against themselves, the Jews condemned this version and made the Hebrew canon their Bible, thus rejecting the books of the Apocrypha from their list of canonical writings, and departing from the custom of Christian churches which continued with isolated remonstrances to make the Greek Old Testament canon, with which the Vulgate agrees almost completely, their standard. It is known that the Reformers were careful students of the Bible, and that in Old Testament matters they were the pupils of Jewish scholars--there were no other competent teachers of Hebrew. It might therefore have been expected that the Old Testament canon of the Reformers would agree in extent with that of the Jews and not with that of the Greek and Latin Christians. Notwithstanding the doubt which Ryle (Canon of the Old Testament, 156) casts on the matter, all the evidence goes to show that the Septuagint and therefore the other great Greek versions included the Apocrypha from the first onward.

    But how comes it to be that the Greek Old Testament is more extensive than the Hebrew Old Testament? Up to the final destruction of Jerusalem in 71 AD the temple with its priesthood and ritual was the center of the religious thought and life of the nation. But with the destruction of the sanctuary and the disbanding of its officials it was needful to find some fresh binding and directing agency and this was found in the collection of sacred writings known by us as the Old Testament. By a national synod held at Jamnia, near Jaffa, in 90 AD, the Old Testament canon was practically though not finally closed, and from that date one may say that the limits of the Old Testament were once and for all fixed, no writings being included except those written in Hebrew, the latest of these being as old as 100 BC. Now the Jews of the Dispersion spoke and wrote Greek, and they continued to think and write long after their fellow-countrymen of the homeland had ceased to produce any fresh original literature. What they did produce was explanatory of what had been written and practical.

    The Greek Bible--the Septuagint--is that of the Jews in Egypt and of those found in other Greek-speaking countries. John Wycliffe (died 1384) puts the Apocrypha together at the end of the Old Testament and the same course was taken by Luther (1546) in his great German and by Miles Coverdale (died 1568) in his English translation.

    5. Hebrew Words for "Apocrypha":

    Is it quite certain that there is no Hebrew word or expression corresponding exactly to the word "apocrypha" as first used by Christian writers, i.e. in the sense "esoteric"? One may answer this by a decisive negative as regards the Old Testament and the Talmud. But in the Middle Ages qabbalah (literally, "tradition") came to have 'a closely allied meaning (compare our "kabbalistic").

    (1) Do such exist?

    Is there in Hebrew a word or expression denoting "non-canonical," i.e. having the secondary sense acquired by "apocrypha"? This question does not allow of so decided an answer, and as matter of fact it has been answered in different ways.

    (2) Views of Zahn, Schurer, Porter, etc. (ganaz, genuzim).

    Zahn (Gesch. des neutest. Kanons, I, i, 123); Schurer (RE3, I, 623); Porter (HDB, I) and others maintain that the Greek word "Apocrypha (Biblia)" is a translation of the Hebrew Cepharim genuzim, literally, "books stored away." If this view is the correct one it follows that the distinction of canonical and non-canonical books originated among the Jews, and that the Fathers in using the word apocrypha in this sense were simply copying the Jews substituting Greek words for the Hebrew equivalent. But there are decisive reasons for rejecting this view.

    (3) Reasons for Rejection.

    (a) The verb ganaz of which the passive part. occurs in the above phrase means "to store away," "to remove from view"--of things in themselves sacred or precious. It never means to exclude as from the canon.

    (b) When employed in reference to sacred books it is only of those recognized as canonical. Thus after copies of the Pentateuch or of other parts of the Hebrew Bible had, by age and use, become unfit to be read in the home or in the synagogue they were "buried" in the ground as being too sacred to be burnt or cut up; and the verb denoting this burying is ganaz. But those buried books are without exception canonical.

    (c) The Hebrew phrase in question does not once occur in either the Babylonian or the Jerusalem Talmud, but only in rabbinical writings of a much later date. The Greek apocrypha cannot therefore be a rendering of the Hebrew expression. The Hebrew for books definitely excluded from the canon is Cepharim chitsonim = "outside" or "extraneous books." The Mishna (the text of the Gemara, both making up what we call the Talmud) or oral law with its additions came to be divided analogously into

    (1) The Mishna proper;

    (2) the external (chitsonah) Mishna:

    in Aramaic called Baraiytha'.

    6. Summary:

    What has been said may be summarized:

    (1) Among the Protestant churches the word "Apocrypha" is used for the books included in the Septuagint and Vulgate, but absent from the Hebrew Bible. This restricted sense of the word cannot be traced farther back than the beginning of the Reformation.

    (2) In classical and Hellenistic Greek the adjective apokruphos denotes "hidden" of visible objects, or obscure, hard to understand (of certain kinds of knowledge).

    (3) In early patristic Greek this adjective came into use as a synonym of the classical Greek esoterikos.

    (4) In later patristic Greek (Irenaeus, etc.) and in Latin works beginning with Jerome, Greek apokruphos meant non-canonical, implying inferiority in subject-matter to the books in the canon.

    (4) By the Protestant Reformers the term "apocrypha" ("apocryphal" "books" being understood) came to stand for what is now called the "Old Testament Apocrypha." But this usage is confined to Protestants, since in the eastern church and in the Roman branch of the western church the Old Testament Apocrypha is as much an integral part of the canon as Genesis or Kings or Psalms or Isaiah.

    (5) There are no equivalents in Hebrew for apokruphos in the sense of either "esoteric" or in that of "non- canonical."

    IV. Contents of the Apocrypha.

    1. List of Books:

    The following is a list of the books in the Apocrypha in the order in which they occur in the English versions (the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American)):

    (1) 1 Esdras;

    (2) 2 Esdras (to be hereafter called "The Apocalyptic Esdras");

    (3) Tobit;

    (4) Judith;

    (5) The Rest of Esther;

    (6) The Wisdom of Solomon;

    (7) Ecclesiasticus (to be hereafter called "Sirach");

    (8) Baruch, with the Epistle of Jeremiah;

    (9) The So of the Three Holy Children; (10) The History of Susanna;

    (11) Bel and the Dragon;

    (12) The Prayer of Manasses;

    (13) 1 Maccabees;

    (14) 2 Maccabees.

    No. 5 in the above, "Addition to Esther;" as it may be called, consists of the majority (107 out of 270 verses) of the Book of Esther since it occurs in the best manuscripts of the Septuagint and in the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 AD.) over the text in the Hebrew Bible. These additions are in the Septuagint scattered throughout the book and are intelligible in the context thus given them, but not when brought together as they are in the collected Apocrypha of our English versions and as they are to some extent in Jerome's Latin version and the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 AD.) (see The Century Bible, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, 294f). Numbers 9-11 in the above enumeration are additions made in the Greek Septuagint and Vulgate versions of Daniel to the book as found in the Massoretic Text. It will be well to name them "Additions to Daniel." The bringing together of the writings of the Apocrypha into an apart collection was due in a large measure to Jerome, who separated many of the apocryphal additions from their original context because he suspected their genuineness. His version influenced the Vulgate, which follows Jerome's version closely.

    Though it is generally true that the Apocrypha is the excess of the Greek (Septuagint) and Latin (Jerome, Vulgate) over the Hebrew Bibles (the Masoretic Text), the statement needs qualification. 2 (4) Ezra, i.e. the Apocalyptic Ezra (Esdras), is absent from the Septuagint, from Jerome's version, and also from Luther's Bible, but it occurs in the Vulgate and in the English and other modern versions of the Apocrypha. On the other hand 3 and 4 Macc occur in the best manuscripts of the Septuagint, but the Vulgate, following Jerome's version, rejects both as do modern versions (English, etc.) of the Apocrypha. Moreover, it has to be pointed out that in the Vulgate proper the Prayer of Manasses and 1 (3) Esdras and the Apocalyptic Esdras are appended to the New Testament as apocryphal.

    2. Classification of Books:

    (1) Historical.

    The books of the Apocrypha proper may be thus classified:

    (a) 1 and 2 (i.e. 3) Esdras;

    (b) 1 and 2 Maccabees;

    (c) Additions to Daniel (nos. 9-11 in the above list);

    (d) Additions to Esther;

    (e) The Epistle of Jeremy (usually appended to Baruch);

    (f) Prayer of Manasses.

    (2) Legendary.

    (a) Book of Baruch (sometimes classed with prophetic books, sometimes with Apocalypses); (b) Tobit; (c) Judith.

    (3) Apocalyptic.

    The Apocalyptic Esdras or 2 (4) Esdras.

    (4) Didactic.

    (a) The Wisdom of Solomon; (b) Sirach (Ecclesiasticus).

    R. H. Charles, our greatest living authority on the Apocalyptic and Apocryphal writings, embraces the following under the heading "Hellenistic Jewish Literature," the rest coming under the heading "Palestinian Jewish Literature" (Enc Brit, 11th edition, II, 177):

    (1) The Additions to Daniel and Esther

    (2) The Epistle of Jeremy;

    (3) 2 Macc;

    (4) The Wisdom of Solomon.

    V. Original Languages of the Apocrypha.

    The bulk of the Apocrypha was written originally in the Greek language and existed at the first in that language alone. The following books were however written in Hebrew:

    Tobit, Judith, Sirach, Baruch (part probably in Greek), and 1 Maccabees. In these cases some prefer regarding Aramaic as the original language in at least parts of the above books. For detailed information see under the several books.

    VI. Date of the Apocryphal Writings.

    The question of date as it applies to the separate books of the Apocrypha will be discussed in connection with the articles dealing with the several books. But a general statement regarding the extreme limits between which all the books were completed may safely be made. The oldest apocryphal book is Sirach, which in its original Hebrew form belongs to between 190-170 BC. In its Greek form the best modern scholars agree in fixing it at between 130-120 BC. None of the books can well belong to a date later than 100 AD, though some (2 Esdras, etc.) may be as late as that. The whole of the Apocrypha may with more than average certainty be said to have been written some time between 200 BC and 100 AD. It will be seen that it is an inaccurate assumption that the Apocrypha was in all its parts of later date than the latest parts of the Old Testament. The canonical Book of Daniel and many of the Psalms are of later date than Sirach and 1 Esdras, and there are cogent reasons for giving the canonical Esther a later date than any of the books named and perhaps than Judith as well (see, however, \DANIEL\; \ESTHER\). But it is quite certain that by far the greater part of the Apocrypha is of later date than the Old Testament; it is therefore of the utmost importance as reflecting the state of the Jews and the character of their intellectual and religious life at the various periods represented. And in later years much use has been made of it.


    The Greek text of the Apocrypha is given in the various editions of the Septuagint (except the Apocalyptic Esdras, not extant in Gr). The best editions of the Septuagint are those by Tischendorf revised by E. Nestle (1887); and Swete (1895-99 and later editions). Critical editions of the Apocrypha have been issued by A. Fabricius (Hamburg, 1722-23); Apel (ib 1804) and a very valuable edition by O. T. Fritzsche (Leipzig, 1871) which includes the Latin version of the Apocalyptic Esdras--without the missing fragment. There are several modern translations, far the best being that in German edited by E. Kautzsch, containing Introductions, general and special, and valuable notes by the best German scholars. In English besides the Revised Version (British and American) there is the useful Variorum edition, edited by C. J. Ball. An English critical edition of the Apocrypha edited by R. H. Charles, with introductory notes, is now being printed at Oxford and will be very valuable.

    The best commentary is that by O. F. Fritsche and C. L. W. Grimm, Kurzgef. Exeg. Handbuch, 1851-60; but the commentary by Bissell in Lange's Series of Commentaries and that edited by Wace, in the Speaker's Bible Series, are meritorious.

    Introductory matter will be found in the various Bible Dictionaries under the word:

    see especially H. E. Ryle in DB (1893), Schurer (RE3), but especially in the valuable Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, by H. B. Swete (1900), Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes) (C. F. Porter), and R. H. Charles (Enc Brit11). See also the Einleitungen by Konig, Budde (A. Bertholet has written the part dealing with the Apocrypha), and Schurer, Geschichte, III, 1898 (Eng. translation, II, iii), where much literature is specified. For monographs on the several books of the Apocrypha or discussing special points, see the special articles.

    Thomas Witton Davies

    Copyright Statement
    These files are public domain.

    Bibliography Information
    Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'APOCRYPHA'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.  

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