(redirected from Apocryphal Gospel)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.


Apocrypha (əpŏkˈrĭfə) [Gr.,=hidden things], term signifying a collection of early Jewish writings excluded from the canon of the Hebrew scriptures. It is not clear why the term was chosen. The Apocrypha include the following books and parts of books: First and Second Esdras; Tobit; Judith; the Additions to Esther; Wisdom of Solomon; Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus); Baruch; the Letter of Jeremiah (in Baruch); parts of Daniel (the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men; see also Bel and the Dragon and Susanna (1)); First and Second Maccabees; the Prayer of Manasses (see Manasseh). All are included in the Septuagint, with the exception of 2 Esdras (4 Ezra). However, they were not included in the Hebrew canon (ratified c.A.D. 100). In 1566 the collection was deemed “deutero-canonical” by the Roman Catholic Church, meaning that their canonicity was recognized only after a period of time. Protestants follow Jewish tradition in regarding all these books as non-canonical. Jewish and Christian works resembling biblical books, but not included among the Apocrypha, are collected in the Pseudepigrapha. The term Apocrypha is sometimes applied to early Christian writings that were once considered canonical by some but are not in the New Testament.


See The Oxford Annotated Apocrypha (1977); G. W. E. Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah (1981).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Between 90 and 98 CE, Jewish scholars met at Jamania and established the criteria for the books of the Hebrew Bible that would later be adopted as part of Christianity's official biblical canon—the "canonical books." Criteria of antiquity, language, and moral integrity were established. Books that failed to meet the criteria came to be called "apocryphal."

The word is a Greek plural neuter adjective meaning "hidden." As a literary term it was first applied to books containing esoteric wisdom deemed too sensitive for the uninitiated. Hence, it was a term of honor among scholars. But after the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem in 70 CE, its meaning gradually evolved to mean "spurious" or even "heretical."

When it came time for the New Testament canon to be "fixed" at the Council of Hippo in 393 CE, the criteria were established that each book had to have been written by an apostle or someone close to an apostle, and each had to have been traditionally used in public worship.

The term apocryphal is now applied to books not included in the official canon of the Bible but often included, especially in Protestant Bibles, as a section between the Old and New Testaments. Such writings include additions to the book of Esther, the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men, Psalm 151, and the books of Baruch, Bel and the Dragon, Ecclesiasticus, 1 and 2 Esdras, Letter of Jeremiah, Judith, 1-4 Maccabees, Prayer of Manasseh, Susanna, Tobit, and Wisdom of Solomon. Orthodox, Roman, and Protestant churches differ regarding the importance and content of these sections.

Jerome, writing in the early fifth century, was probably the first to use the term "Apocrypha" to describe noncanonical books. He believed apocryphal books should be read for edification but not "for confirming the authority of church dogmas." Because of their acceptance in church tradition, he felt compelled to include them in his famous Latin Bible, The Vulgate, which became the official translation of the Roman Catholic Church.

In the Greek Orthodox Church all but four books of the Apocrypha were accepted as canonical. After the Reformation of the sixteenth century, most Protestants generally ignored the Apocrypha. Martin Luther added the Apocrypha to the end of his German translation while commenting, "These books are not held equal to the sacred Scriptures but are useful and good for reading." That statement probably marked the beginning of the end for the study of the Apocrypha in most Protestant circles. Because they were placed together in a group, they were easy to remove, and most Protestant Bibles do not contain even a mention of such books.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



works of Jewish and early Christian literature that were not included by their churches in their canons—that is, those not used in the divine liturgy. Not all the works excluded from the Jewish canon are considered apocryphal by the Christian church; moreover, there are differences among various Christian churches as to which works belong among the Apocrypha.

The term “Apocrypha” was first used in a papal decree at the end of the fourth century, and it was at that time that the first list of apocryphal works was drawn up by the Christian church. Apocrypha are divided into Old Testament, New Testament, and biographical works. The Old Testament Apocrypha are landmarks of Jewish literature primarily of the second and first centuries B.C. They include the first three books of the Maccabees, the Epistle of Jeremy, the Wisdom of Solomon, Judith, the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach, the third book of Esdras, Tobit, and a number of others. The Christian church (except for the Lutherans) has included part of the Old Testament Apocrypha in its canon; therefore, some of it, which was lost in the original Hebrew, has been preserved in the Greek translation. Certain of the Old Testament Apocrypha were evidently written in Greek, including the third book of the Maccabees and the Prayer of Manasseh, and some were written in Aramaic—for example, Tobit. Fragments of Old Testament Apocrypha were found among the Qumran manuscripts, discovered during the period 1947–65 in caves along the shores of the Dead Sea. New Testament Apocrypha include numerous gospels—such as those of Peter and Thomas and the Protevangelium of James—and epistles by Clement, Polycarp, Barnabas, and others. A number of Coptic New Testament Apocrypha—for example, the gospels of Thomas and of Truth—were found in 1946 during excavations at Nag-Hammadi, Egypt. On the borderline between New Testament and biographical Apocrypha are the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles (Paul, Andrew, and others), which recount the dissemination of Christianity and the sufferings of its first preachers.

During the Middle Ages the creation and dissemination of Apocrypha were most frequently connected with popular antifeudal movements and heresies. Thus, in Bulgaria the Bogomil movement evoked a flourishing apocryphal literature. In its struggle with heresies the Christian church condemned the majority of Apocrypha as heretical, but at the same time certain Apocrypha—those which did not contradict the canon—were not only not condemned by the church but were even recommended for reading by believers. In old Rus’, Apocrypha were being extensively propagated at the same time that Christianity was spreading. These were the so-called forbidden books, many of which, having penetrated through Bulgaria, were translations and reworkings of Greek Apocrypha—for example, “The Virgin’s Descent Into Hell” and the apocryphal works about Solomon and Kitov-ras. Russian texts of Apocrypha have come down to us in copies the earliest of which date back to the 11th century. The Anthology of Sviatoslav (1073) enumerates some “hidden,” or apocryphal, books. Some Apocrypha, however, even found their way into such official church collections as Velikie Chet’i Minei (The Great Monthly Readings), published during the 16th century. Many Apocrypha were preserved in monastery libraries—for example, in the Solovetsk Monastery. Apocrypha were reflected in paintings—for example, the icon Descent into Hell; in folklore—for example, religious verses, charms, and divinations; and in music—for example, A. Serov’s opera Judith.


Iatsimirskii, A. I. Bibliograficheskii obzor apokrifov v iuzhno-slavianskoi i russkoi pis’mennosti. Petrograd, 1921.
Sventsitskaia, I. S. Zapreshchennye evangeliia. Moscow, 1965.
Gudzii, N. K. Istoriia drevnei russkoi literatury. Moscow, 1966.
Pages 28–35.
Eissfeld, O. Einleitung in das Alte Testament,3rd ed. Tübingen, 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. the 14 books included as an appendix to the Old Testament in the Septuagint and the Vulgate but not included in the Hebrew canon. They are not printed in Protestant versions of the Bible
2. RC Church another name for the Pseudepigrapha
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Their refusal to listen to his testimony echoes their refusal to listen to Beatrice's testimony in the original apocryphal gospel, except that the Jews dismiss the beadle because he is a Roman whereas they dismissed Beatrice because she was a woman.
The four explorations center on: Jesus in India, how Christian doctrines have been assimilated or not into a missionary context; the "historical Jesus," insofar as we might rediscover him on a bus tour of "original sites" in the Holy Land; "Jesus the rebel," given that New Testament texts imply that he was a "deliverer" in the radical sense; and the "hidden Jesus," implying that the "apocryphal gospels," deliberately rejected by the early church, hold the secret to the "real" Jesus that authorities didn't want us to know.
The 2nd-century apocryphal Gospel of Judas favorably evaluates him.
This includes supporting Tolstoy's revision of the Gospels and insisting that the apocryphal Gospel of Barnabas is the only accurate account of the life and death of Jesus.
Since the introduction to apocryphal Gospel literature in volume i does not consist of an account of the canonical Gospels, and the introduction to the apocryphal Acts in the present volume does not consist of a study of the Lukan Acts, why should a lengthy analysis of the apocalyptic material of the New Testament be thought an appropriate way to introduce a group of apocryphal works which certainly resemble New Testament apocalyptic no more than the apocryphal Acts do the canonical Acts?
They take the four canonical Gospels in turn, look at apocryphal Gospels, then consider such topics as the quest for the historical Jesus, political and ethical interpretations of Jesus, and how christology works: the Gospels in practice.
More important to Southwell's audience, who knew the tales of Christ's displays of power from the Golden Legend and the apocryphal Gospels, he never angered his playmates or the authorities by hanging jugs on sunbeams or making little lakes of water or creating clay birds and animating them in defiance of the Sabbath, nor did he strike down his companions with lightning, all faults Mary Dzon discusses in her "Wanton Boys in Middle English Texts and the Christ Child." (10)
We should note however that the later writers of apocryphal Gospels were not Jewish and tended to be rather more anti-Semitic than anti-Christian as they tried to divorce Christianity from its Old Testament and Jewish origins.
Roman Catholics are also familiar with the apocryphal gospels in their version of the Bible that is absent from the King James edition and most other Protestant versions of the Bible.
(66.) For a good summary of modern research see Hans-Josef Klauck, Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction (London, New York: T &T Clark International, 2003), 82-88.
The first century AD churns with the unconventional rites of fertility cults with dissenting Gnostics and Essenes who preserve apocryphal gospels in buried jars.
Fonda, who describes herself as a serious Bible student, is a believer in the apocryphal Gospels, which prompts an exchange between her and Mr.