The Apocrypha

As I understand it, the books of the bible were determined by a convention of church officials, who rejected some texts because they were inconsistent with others, or portrayed messages which were thought to be in conflict with others, etc.

Now, given that the bible is supposed to have been divinely inspired, does that mean that this convention was also divinely inspired? What if some real works of God were excluded from the Bible, or some false ones were included?

And, can someone give some examples of differences in the Apocryphal works? What was it that excluded them from the bible?

Let me see if I remember this stuff from my Catholic school days. * Apocrypha * refers to the 73 books the Church does not consider as inspired. Examples: * Book of Enoch, the Assumption of Moses, Gospel of Thomas, Acts of Paul *. Protestants call these the * Pseudepigraphia . To make matters more fun, the Catholic bible contains the OT books, * Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch. These are not found in the Protestant bible. The Jewish OT was revised also with some books being dropped sometimes around the first century AD. I don’t know why this is or why books are added and subtracted depending on your faith. If I knew that I guess I would’ve been a priest instead of a cop. Anyway, that’s the slant I was given in my Catholic high school. The Church lets you read the * Apocrypha * books, but they say they are not divinely inspired. Excerpts from the * Gospel of Thomas * suggests a more special relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdelene than what is mentioned in the conventional NT. I really don’t have a background into what constitutes “divinely inspired” (help me out Dopers) and to tell you the truth, I spent a lot of time in Catholic school in detention and in trouble, so I am far from being an authority in this stuff.

“…send lawyers, guns, and money…”

 Warren Zevon

Regarding the OT: Judaism never “dropped” books from Scripture. The earliest revered works that were considered scriptural were the five books of the Law/Torah/Pentateuch. This occurred by about the sixth century BCE. By the second century BCE, the Prophets (which includes a number of works that Christians call Historical as well as Isaiah and company) were being treated as Scripture (i.e., being read during religious services, etc.). Many other religious works were written throughout that period. Of those works, quite a few were used as inspirational and were sometimes included in services. At the end of the first century CE, the Jewish nation had suffered the catastrophe of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish religion was in conflict with the heretical Christians. The decision was made to declare a closed canon of those works that were truly to be considered Scripture. The criteria was that the work had to have survived 500 years and it must have been originally written in the Hebrew language. Later literary criticism has shown that some of the selected works were not actually as old as they seemed and that some sections of those works had been written in languages other than Hebrew, but the judgment stands.

The Christian canon came about in a similar way. One of the earliest heresies faced by Christianity (outside Gnosticism) was the virulently anti-Jewish thought of Marcinion. He set up a list of “acceptable” works that excluded any writing that he considered to have been written for a Jewish audience. In response, the early Church convened several councils in which they defined their canon–deliberately including the “Jewish” works. The actual process took several hundred years.

Two results of this process are that some people believe that the NT was written over several hundred years (it was more like 60) and that other people think that some secret cabal of church fathers were “hiding secrets” from the rest of the faithful (every rejected book can be found and read, although smoe do not stay in publication in English for long periods).

I have a copy of The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden that is a reprint of an 1926 publication. I don’t remember if the woman who published the silly conspiracy book a few years ago reprinted the actual works or just quoted them to piece together her plot.

As to the OP, yes, the church generally considers that the councils that ordered the canons were guided by the Holy Spirit.


Couple of comments expanding what Tom said:

<< The criteria was that the work had to have survived 500 years and it must have been originally written in the Hebrew language. >>

Well, yes, but they also needed to be consistent with the other texts. There was debate about excluding the Book of Esther, for instance, because God is not mentioned anywhere in the book.

<< yes, the church generally considers that the councils that ordered the canons were guided by the Holy Spirit. >>

Similarly, for Judaism, the assumption is that rabbinic tradition (including the Talmud and Mishnah and canonization of Scripture) is divinely inspired and binding.

Of course, the cynic in me says that any religion setting forth its canon and dogma would have to proclaim them divinely inspired… I mean, a statement like: “Heck, we just thought, what’s all the fuss, so we included these stories and not those, based on political considerations and size of bribes from the supporting factions.” Wouldn’t cut it.

Of course, there is a very high number of stories of miraculous incidents in these non-canonical writings… hence, Apocrypha of miracles.

I wanted to say it first.

Good one, Dex. Now let’s see you work the word pseudepigraphia into a pun.

It’s my understanding (from a long ago university New Testament class), that one of the requirements to get into the Christian canon was that the author had to either have been an apostle, or had some close connection with an apostle. This was a way to ensure that the contents of the document could be considered in accordance with Christ’s teaching - a specific example of the reverence for the witness of the early apostles, which also resulted in the doctrine of the apostolic succession.

For example, of the four Gospels, two were traditionally ascribed to apostles: John and Matthew. Mark was considered to be an associate of Peter, and therefore his Gospel was also authoritative. Luke was considered an associate of Paul.

(Modern textual studies have cast some doubt on some of these traditional identificiations.)

I seem to recall that there was some dickering about two books in particular: the Epistle to the Hebrews (traditionally assigned to Paul’s authorship, although other theories have been advanced, including, if memory serves, an argument that Mary was the author), and the Book of the Revelation (traditionally assigned to John).

If memory serves, the eastern (Greek) Church had its doubts about some of the doctrine set out in Hebrews, while the western (Latin) church had a lot of doubts about the Book of the Revelation (if you’ve ever read that one from start to finish, you’ll see why, without even needing to know much about Christian theology). However, the Latins supported Hebrews, and the Greeks, with a strong mystical streak at that time, supported the Revelation. A compromise resulted: both were accepted.

If you ask me, the Latins should have dug in their heels to keep the Book of the Revelation out, but it’s a bit late now.


The council you’re thinking of was the Council of Carthage in 397, which published the decree of Pope Damasus, establishing the official canon of Sacred Scripture as that listing of books which we presently have. (As Bluepony said, there are eleven O.T. books which the Catholics regard to be inspired which the Protestants do not.) That same listing was confirmed by the Council of Trent in 1545.

Not necessarily “divinely inspired”, but certainly led by the Holy Spirit to include what God wanted included-----if you’re taking this all on faith, that is. [smile]

Sure. The Protestant Reformers followed the Masoretic Text of O.T. books, rather than the Greek Septuagint. This means that the Protestants rejected the same books as the Jews, but for different reasons. For example, the Jews rejected the Books of Maccabees because they contained evidence of friendship treaties between the Jews and the Romans, and as Rome got more powerful and included Palestine into their holdings, the Jews came to hate them and didn’t wish to acknowledge any friendly treaties they’d ever had with Rome. The Protestants rejected Maccabees because they contain a phrase about praying for the dead, which the Catholics used to support the concept of Purgatory, which the Protestants wanted to do away with.

As for the books of the pseudepigrapha, all you have to do is read some of them and you can see why they weren’t included; they have some pretty outlandish tales in them, and were obviously made up by somebody with a wild imagination. Others weren’t included because they were heretical in content—the Gnostic writings, for example. And there were a few (the Didache) that probably wouldn’t have hurt anything if they had been included; and some of the included, inspired books (Hebrews and Revelation) that fellows like Martin Luther almost did away with, but finally didn’t, even though they disagreed with what was in them.

For examples of O.T. apocrypha, there are The Book of Enoch, the Assumption of Moses, the Sibylline Oracles, the Apocalypse of Baruch, the Book of Jubilees, and the Books of Adam and Eve,
Joseph and Asenath, and Jannes and Jambres. These are not to be confused with books like the Book of Jashar, the Acts of Solomon, the Book of the Wars of the Lord, The Book of Nathan, the Book of Gad, the Book of Ahijah, the Book of Iddo, the Book of Shemaiah, and the Chronicles of Jehu; these last ones are all books that are mentioned in the O.T., but have been lost or destroyed in the last 5,000 years, and no longer exist.

New Testament apocrypha include the Apocalypse of Peter, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Ascension of Isaiah, The Acts of Pilate, the Harrowing of Hell, Gospels according to the Hebrews, Egyptians, Thomas, Judas Iscariot, and James; the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus, and Epistles of Agbar, Barnabas, Clement, Ignatius, and others. Like I said, these books are loaded with wild and woolly tales that stretch their credibility past the breaking point; it’s obvious that they’re complete nonsense. Then there are the heretical writings, like the Gnostic Gospels, and things put out by the Arians, Manichaeans, Albigensians, Waldensians, and Docetists. They’re a tad weird, too.

For a basic listing of early church writings that are authentic but not considered inspired, go buy a copy of * Early Christian Writings, * published by Penguin Classics and translated by Maxwell Staniforth. These include epistles of Clement to the Corinthians; Ignatius to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, and Smyrnaeans; the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, and the Didache. My copy (which I got nine million years ago) was $5.95, but you can probably still order it for less than $10.00. And it never hurts to find a good English translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, either.

Thanks very much!

Gospel of Thomas people…here’s an old thread with some more background. (Courtesy of Polycarp’s Unearthing Service)

P.S.: Watch what David B. posts in response; it should be interesting! :slight_smile:

Bluepony wrote:

My copy of The Good News Bible, Catholic Study Edition claims that the term “Apocrypha” is the Protestants’ name for what Catholics call the Deuterocanonicals.

It also says that the Deuterocanonicals are TWELVE (not 73, just 12) books from Old Testament times, which were eventually accepted as Catholic canon several centuries after the original canon was established. (Hence, they are secondarily, or deutero, canonical.) The Deuterocanonicals include 1st and 2nd Maccabees, the Greek version of Esther, and maybe Enoch and/or the Wisdom of Solomon (I can’t remember, I don’t have the Good News Bible in front of me).

Is it true that “THE apocrypha” means only the Deuterocanonicals?

The truth, as always, is more complicated than that.

What your average Protestant (including Episcopalians, who as a rule bridle at being included) means by “The Apocrypha” is what the Catholics include in “the deuterocanonical books.”

What Catholics mean by the Apocrypha is gone into in detail above. (Me, I resent the classification of the Epistle of Polycarp as apocryphal! ;))