Weizenfeld mit Sonnenuntergang

The Canon of the New Testament – Part 12: Apocrypha

By Christian

After having taken a look at the apocryphal gospels in the last part of this series, we now want to get an overview of the apocrypha in general. In the following, we will use the term apocrypha to refer to those writings that have not been included in the canon of the New Testament. The term is derived from the ancient Greek ἀπόκρυφος apokryphos, English ‘hidden, dark’. There are more apocryphal books:

The biblical apocrypha (from Ancient Greek ἀπόκρυφος (apókruphos) ‘hidden’) denotes the collection of apocryphal ancient books thought to have been written some time between 200 BC and AD 400.
The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches include some or all of the same texts within the body of their version of the Old Testament, with Roman Catholics terming them deuterocanonical books. Traditional 80-book Protestant Bibles include fourteen books in an intertestamental section between the Old Testament and New Testament called the Apocrypha, deeming these useful for instruction, but non-canonical.

 Wikipedia apocrypha

When thinking of apocrypha, one might first think of writings that are not found in all Bibles in the Old Testament, as this overview shows:


It is interesting that in Luther 1543 as well as in the English King James Version of 1611 these Apocrypha are summarized at the end. In the Vulgate and Catholic Bibles, however, they are found among the other books. Even in the early Greek translation, the Septuagint, they are found in between. Many modern Bibles, however, adhere to the Jewish Bible, which has not contained them since the 1st century AD. So the answer as to whether a book is part of the canon can vary.

As far as the New Testament is concerned, such differences no longer exist. But in the first centuries, besides the apocryphal gospels, which we have talked about in the last part, there were definitely other genres of apocryphal writings.

Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles

The canonical Acts of the Apostles (also called Acts) describe in more detail the missionary activity of only a few apostles. Therefore, other Acts of the Apostles or Acts appeared in the second and third centuries:

  • Aprocryphal acts of Andrew
  • Aprocryphal acts of Thomas
  • Aprocryphal acts of Philippus
  • Aprocryphal acts of Matthias
  • Aprocryphal acts of Bartholomäus
  • Aprocryphal acts of Barnabas
  • Aprocryphal acts of Paul
  • Aprocryphal acts of John
  • Aprocryphal acts of Peter

What they have in common is that they are hardly based on facts but are more influenced by the Greco-Roman novel of the era. An example from the Acts of John:

The author reports that Jesus constantly changed his figure. Sometimes he looked like a little boy, sometimes like a handsome young man, sometimes he appeared with a bald head and a long beard, then again like a youth with his first down on his cheek.

Before his death, Jesus gathers his disciples in a circle around him and sings a hymn to the Father while his apostles hold hands and dance around him in a circle. The terminology of the hymn borrows heavily from the Gospel of John and its prologue. At the same time, the author gives it a docetic flair.

Incidentally, they are the oldest source of the celebration of the Eucharist for the dead.

Bruce M. Metzger Der Kanon des Neuen Testaments, S. 174

Apocryphal Epistles

In the New Testament, most of the writings belong to the epistolary genre. In the Apocrypha, on the other hand, only a few letters are found, probably because it was quite difficult to produce genuine-sounding letters.

Metzger describes the 2nd-century Epistola Apostolorum this way: “In short, the writing represents a Catholic Christian’s fierce attack on gnosis.”

There was also a 3rd Corinthians letter, which was highly respected by the Armenian Church. And a Laodicean letter. For this, of course, the Epistle to the Colossians in Colossians 4:16 had provided the steeple, as we have already seen at the beginning of the series. Presumably, however, this was written toward the end of the 3rd century. Jerome reports that “some read the letter to the Laodiceans, but it is rejected by everyone.”

Apocryphal Apocalypses

The most important apocryphal apocalypse is the Apocalypse of Peter from the period between 125 to 150 A.D. In the Canon Muratori it is listed after the Revelation of John. In the Codex Claromontanes, the list of canonical books is concluded with the Apocalypse of Peter. Opinions about it differed among the church fathers and also in the congregations. “The unknown author, who was the first to introduce pagan ideas of heaven and hell into Christian literature, drew his conception of the future life from a number of pre-Christian traditions.” (Metzger p. 181)

So, already in the first centuries there was a flood of writings circulating in the churches. Some of them were also read and appreciated in the meetings and quoted by the Fathers of the Church. Nor could the title or the supposed author be relied upon as authority. The disciples of Jesus had to examine and evaluate the content:

Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt, but test all things. Hold fast to what is good.

1. Thessalonians 5:19-21 Berean Standard Bible

Write comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: