from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Apocrypha (also apocryphal writings ; old Gr . Ἀπόκρυφος apokryphos , hidden ',' dark '; plural ἀπόκρυφα apokrypha ) are religious writings of Jewish or Christian origin from the period between about 200 before to about 400 after Christ, which are not included in a biblical canon were included or there is disagreement about their affiliation, be it for content-related or religious-political reasons, or because they were only created after the canon was concluded or were not generally known at the time of its creation.

In terms of naming, authoring tradition and content, apocryphal writings make a quasi-biblical claim, be it explicitly and intentionally by the author or also unintentionally and only ascribed. Only in this respect were they characterized by the prevailing current of theology as "apocryphal" in the sense of aloof and unreliable; the false appearance of the canonical and binding is the decisive feature for this. The theological and literary quality of many Apocrypha, however, often lags well behind the canonical writings.

The term is of Christian origin and is largely only used in Christian theology. In the Jewish field, one speaks instead of “outside books” (primarily writings that are not contained in the Hebrew Tanakh , but are contained in the Greek Septuagint ). A strict distinction must be made between the Apocrypha of the Old and New Testaments , as the research problems and theological questions associated with them are different.

Sometimes even later Christian writings, the date of which dates back to the 8th or 9th century, are counted among the New Testament Apocrypha. Some apocrypha are hagiographies in form , the main characters of which are people from the biblical environment.


The term was coined by Christian theologians in the 2nd century. At first it meant not only "extra-canonical", but also " heretical ". He assessed the scriptures as false doctrines or forgeries and was initially related primarily to Gnostic texts and their environment. Many Gnostics made certain texts accessible only to the initiated and sometimes even marked them as secret teachings with the word "apocryphal".

Apocrypha to the Old Testament

Old Testament Apocrypha in the narrower sense are the writings that were singled out by Martin Luther and after him also by other reformers, which do not appear in the Hebrew Bible but are only contained in the Greek Bible. Old Testament Apocrypha in the broader sense encompasses other non-biblical writings of Judaism.

Old Testament Apocrypha in the narrower sense

Towards the end of the first century AD, in the course of the canonization of the Jewish Bible in Tannaitic Judaism, biblical writings are said to have been excluded, which are only contained in the Septuagint, but not in the Hebrew Tanakh. In the Greek-speaking Christian Church, the Septuagint was retained as the canon of the Old Testament. Since the 3rd Council of Carthage (397), the Roman Church definitely included their writings in the canon. It was not until the churches of the Reformation that they assigned the "Apocrypha" in the 16th century.

The Septuagint canon, however, is only attested in Christian contexts. The earlier widespread opinion that rabbinic Judaism, following the Synod of Jamnia, had a significant reduction in the biblical collection of scriptures that had previously also included the scriptures known today as the "Apocrypha" and was recognized as the Greek Bible of Alexandrian Judaism contradicted today.

Since the Reformation, the scope of the Old Testament has therefore differed in the Christian denominations: the Catholic and Orthodox Churches continue to follow the Septuagint in their OT canons, while the Reformers based their Bible translations on the Hebrew Bible. Correspondingly, in Protestantism, all writings that are not recognized as canonical in Judaism are counted among the Apocrypha. They are printed in the Luther Bible as "useful" but not "holy" scriptures in an appendix. In some editions of the Luther Bible they are not included at all. They were initially included in Bible translations from the Reformed tradition ( Zurich Bible from 1531), but were later excluded. The same applies to the Anglican tradition, which initially included the Apocrypha in the King James Bible of 1611 in a separate section with no difference in rank, but within a century it was displaced from its Bible editions.

The texts regarded as apocryphal in Protestant churches were also referred to as deutero-canonical writings in the parlance of Catholic theology in the time of controversial theology in order to distinguish them from the proto-canonical writings, which are recognized by all Christian denominations. In the Orthodox churches they are also called anaginoskomena ("something to be read"). A modern expression for these writings, which strives for denominational neutrality, is " late writings of the Old Testament ". All these apocryphal writings are (depending on the delimitation at least predominantly) of Jewish origin and in the period from the 3rd century BC. BC to the 1st century AD.

Evangelical view

The following writings are referred to in the Luther Bible as "Apocrypha" and are printed under this name and in the following order.

All other apocrypha are not included in this scriptural category in the Reformation tradition, but instead often referred to collectively as "pseudepigraphies" in the Protestant area, although strictly speaking by no means all apocryphal scriptures are pseudepigraphies and there are also undisputed canonical books in the Bible that are widely known as Pseudepigraphies can be recognized or viewed.

Catholic point of view

Most of the apocrypha according to this evangelical usage are contained in Catholic Bible editions based on the Latin Vulgate as canonical writings; they were never referred to as “apocrypha” in the pre-Reformation and Catholic tradition. Only the Oratio Manassis ("Prayer of Manasseh") is considered to be apocryphal according to both denominations.

The Council of Trent confirmed the majority of the Old Testament books questioned by the reformers at its 4th session on April 8, 1546 as canonical, despite certain differences of opinion in advance. It was later referred to at times as deuterocanonical, but it was never downgraded or removed from its traditional position in the Bible editions.

Some late writings that were not consistently attested in the Septuagint never belonged to the pre-Reformation canon or were controversial even before the Reformation. From the Catholic point of view, only the following writings are considered to be apocryphal in the narrower sense, which have been handed down in text witnesses of the Septuagint, but have not found their way into the Vulgate:

Orthodox view

The Orthodox tradition follows the Greek Bible of the Ancient Church. However, it does not have an authoritative canon. Before the Reformation there were negotiations with the Latin Church about the value or validity of certain books, including at the Union Council of Florence (1442). Later, under the influence of the Reformation, the binding force and rank of individual writings were questioned or relativized to varying degrees, even in Orthodoxy. A Greek printed Bible from 1526 put the Apocrypha in a separate section. In 1629 the Patriarch of Constantinople rejected the books going beyond the Tanakh. The Synod of Constantinople held in 1642, on the other hand, judged the Apocrypha to be useful and to be retained. The Synod of Jerusalem (1672) only accepted the books of Tobit, Judit, Jesus Sirach and the Book of Wisdom as reliably transmitted. In 1950, however, a biblical edition was authorized for pan-orthodox use, which contains all the scriptures regarded as apocryphal in the evangelical field without any special identification.

A special case is Psalm 151 , which is not recognized as canonical in the Western Church, neither in the Catholic nor in the Protestant area, but in the Eastern Church it was always considered an undisputed part of the Psalms .

Old Testament Apocrypha in the broader sense

In addition, other non-canonical writings of Judaism in the Christian area are referred to as "apocryphal" Jewish texts in analogy to the New Testament apocrypha, including the Ethiopian and the Slavic Book of Enoch or the various Baruch apocalypses ( 2nd Baruch , 3rd Baruch and 4th Baruch ). They come for the most part from the Hellenistic Judaism of Egypt, Syria and Palestine and from the environment of the Qumran writings and contain legends, stories, teaching texts, poetic texts and apocalypses .

Apocrypha to the New Testament

List: Pseudepigraphic writings on the New Testament

The New Testament Apocrypha describes Christian writings of the first centuries that are similar in content and form to the writings of the New Testament, but were not included in the canon. Often the claim of these writings to have been written by apostles or to report on the work of apostles was disputed by the church or its authoritative theologians, which is why these writings received the reputation of forgery. With regard to the New Testament apocrypha, the Christian denominations of today largely agree that they do not belong to the Bible.

As a rule, those extra-canonical early Christian texts that are counted among the writings of the Church Fathers of the 2nd century, the so-called Apostolic Fathers , are not referred to as apocryphal . This term was coined in the 17th century for early Christian authors who were expected to conform to the teaching of the apostles because they were recognized as early church theologians and bishops. The writings of the apostolic fathers, which were written between about 90 and 150 AD, are doctrinal, pastoral letters or commentaries on New Testament traditions. The boundaries between father literature and apocrypha are in part fluid. Early Christian literature such as the Didache or the Shepherds of Hermas are usually counted among the Apocrypha, although they are recognized as authentic and faithful.

So-called Agrapha are also counted among the Apocrypha : orally transmitted words, dialogues and episodes by and about Jesus, which are unknown in the NT tradition and were written down in parallel - also within the writings of the Apostolic Fathers.

The church father Origen († around 254) and the church historian Eusebius († around 340) divided the writings in circulation at their time into three groups:

  • generally recognized writings
  • partly recognized, partly controversial writings
  • spurious and rejected writings

A clear distinction between canonical and non-canonical writings has existed since the 39th letter of Athanasius in the year 367 AD.

A special case is the pseudepigraphic letter to the laodici , which was rejected by Jerome , for example , in late antiquity, but was still passed down for centuries as a canonical letter from St. Paul in the Vulgate and was also contained in all 17 German translations of the New Testament before the Luther Bible. Only Luther judged the letter as apocryphal and eliminated it from his canon. The Council of Trent, which defined the canon binding for the Roman Catholic Church in response to the criticism of the Reformation of the Bible, no longer allowed the controversial letter, so that it has generally no longer been perceived as a canonical book.

Use of apocryphal sources in early Christian literature

An apocryphal Jewish scripture is certainly quoted in the New Testament, namely the Book of Enoch in verse 14 of the letter of Jude . Around 200 AD, Clement of Alexandria wrote a commentary on the Revelation of Peter , an early Christian apocalypse that was not recognized as canonical. Overall, however, references to Apocrypha are rare among the Church Fathers. However, comparisons with the frequency of use of the canonical books are made difficult by the fact that many registers of the Church Fathers' editions do not even take the Apocrypha into account.

Regarding the apocryphal gospels, an assessment of their use by the church fathers is also difficult, since only fragments are known of some apocryphal gospels. Therefore, deviating Gospel quotations from church fathers often cannot be clearly assigned: It cannot be reliably determined whether it is an inaccurate reproduction from memory, a quotation from a deviating handwriting tradition of a canonical Gospel or actually a passage from an apocryphal Gospel.

Collection of New Testament apocrypha

Many of the New Testament Apocrypha are not completely preserved in the original, only in fragments or in translations. Some are only known from quotations or mentions by the church fathers or other early Christian writers. Often the scriptures were distributed under the name of a well-known apostle or disciple of Jesus as a pseudepigraph . Since the discovery of Nag Hammadi , which opened up an extensive Gnostic library, some texts that were previously known only by name or not at all have been rediscovered in Coptic versions, including:

Some research is of the opinion that, especially in the Gospel of Thomas, independent and older traditions of utterances of the historical Jesus are passed down. Other biblical scholars, on the other hand, see e.g. B. a dependency on other Gospels, as well as sometimes strong editorial arrangements z. B. under the influence of Gnosticism .

Many of these texts were not well known or not recognized as authoritative at the time the canon was formed. These apocryphal texts are to be distinguished from writings that were also created at that time, but were neither included in the canon of the New Testament nor used in congregations that later became part of the main church, but were instead expelled as heretical. The distinction between orthodox and heretical positions, in particular between the large church and Gnosticism, only emerged in the first few centuries and was founded on a critical basis by apologists such as Justin the Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyon , among others . It can therefore be assumed that many congregations and congregation members who were later classified as “Gnostic” and “heretical” did not initially see themselves as different from the rest of Christianity. The distinction between “orthodox Christian apocrypha” and “Gnostic heretical writings” is correspondingly problematic. Basically, it is assumed that the canon formation often followed the emerging opposition to positions that were excluded as heretics, so that texts to which "heretics" could have invoked were eliminated from the canon in order to consolidate the identity of the great church.

The number of these apocrypha is on the order of 100 (rather more). They are informative with regard to popular Christianity in and outside the Church of the time, but without significantly expanding historical knowledge about Jesus and his apostles. Subsequent inclusion of individual Apocrypha in the New Testament is not seriously considered, and laypeople study them far less than the 27 books of the NT.

The New Testament Apocrypha does not include texts that claim a similar claim to revelation as the Gospels, but are not historically proven in the first centuries. B. the Gospel of Barnabas , the revelations of Jakob Lorber or the Holy Piby .

Fragments of the Apocryphal Gospels

Egerton Papyrus 2

The Egerton 2 papyrus consists of fragments from three sides of a codex . They contain parts of an unknown gospel from the second century that was found in Egypt and first published in 1935. The relationship to the Gospel of John is particularly discussed in research. In the meantime, the Papyrus Cologne VI 255 has been recognized as part of the same manuscript.

The secret Gospel of Mark

The Secret Gospel of Mark is a variant of the Gospel of Mark, which is only attested in an alleged letter from Clement of Alexandria to an otherwise unknown Theodoros from Alexandria with two cited extensions to the canonical text. This letter describes it as a “more spiritual Gospel for use by those who have just been perfected”, also written by the Evangelist Mark. The letter was discovered by Morton Smith in 1958 in the monastery of Mar Saba and published for the first time in 1973. The original seems to have been lost. It may be a modern fake.

Gospel of Peter

In 1886 a fragment of the Gospel of Peter was discovered in Egypt . Until then, this was only known from notes made by Eusebius of Caesarea . The manuscript is dated to the early 9th century, but the text was already widespread in Egypt in the 2nd century, as evidenced by some fragments from Oxyrhynchos .

The fragment contains a shortened Passion account with Peter as the narrator. He begins with the hand-washing of Pilate and unhistorically assigns Herod and the Jews sole guilt for Jesus' death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ takes place here in front of many witnesses and with fantastic features. After the disciples return to Galilee, Jesus meets the three first called disciples Peter, Andreas and Levi at the Sea of ​​Galilee (cf. Joh 21  EU ).

Helmut Köster considered this to be the oldest vision of the resurrection, which had been left out in the Gospel of Mark for theological reasons. Martin Dibelius, on the other hand, assumed that the author had known all the canonical Gospels, retold them from memory and supplemented them with quotations from the Old Testament. He did not know the legal situation in Palestine and his text contains strong anti-Judaism , so that Gerd Theißen rates his value for explaining the death of Jesus as low.

Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840

The Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840 is a small sheet (8.5 by 7 cm) written on both sides, which probably served as an amulet . This tiny fragment was discovered in Oxyrhynchus by Grenfell and Hunt in 1905 . It contains, among other things, a dispute between Jesus and the Pharisee high priest Levi about the rules for purification by Jesus and his disciples before entering the forecourt of the Jerusalem temple (cf. Mk 7.1  EU ; Mt 15.1  EU ). Similar to synoptic texts, it emphasizes the inner and not the outer purity that is fully given with baptism . Some scholars, like Joachim Jeremias , assumed that it belonged to a pre-Markin gospel. It would then be the oldest known fragment of the Gospel.

Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1224

The papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1224 consists of the remains of a papyrus book from Oxyrhynchos . The fragment was first edited by Grenfell and Hunt. Due to the poor condition of the leaves, identification with an apocryphal gospel or any other known script was not possible until now. The fragment is dated around the 4th century.

Papyrus Cairensis 10 735

This papyrus sheet from the 6th or 7th century contains fragments of an uncanonical gospel, but possibly also the text of an excerpt from the gospel or a sermon. The content relates to the proclamation of the birth of Jesus and the flight to Egypt with references to Mt 2.13  EU and Lk 1.36  EU .

Fajjum fragment

The papyrus fragment from the 3rd century was found by G. Bickel in Vienna in 1885 and published in 1887 ( Mittheilungen from the collection of the Papyrus Archduke Rainer I , 1887, pp. 54-61). It is a short fragment with a shortened, older communion scene . Fajjum is the alleged site in Egypt. Klaus Berger suspects the origin of the script around AD 60–65.

Strasbourg Coptic Papyrus and Unknown Berlin Gospel

The Strasbourg Coptic Papyrus are a few fragments of an apocryphal gospel from the 5th or 6th century, which have been in the Strasbourg State and University Library since 1899. There is a relationship with the unknown Berlin Gospel , which is possibly a different manuscript of the same work. However, the fragments are so badly damaged that they can hardly be evaluated.

Apocryphal Gospels

The texts summarized in this group do not all belong to the literary genre of the Gospels ; H. Orderly narratives of the life and work of Jesus, as they were first presented under this name in the Gospel of Mark . Rather, in addition to gospels in the narrower sense, gospel harmonies and collections of sayings, esoteric treatises and other texts are also represented that have been referred to as "gospel" by the authors or narrators because of the importance attached to them, their message, their intended dissemination or for other reasons.

Acts of the Apostles

(Apocryphal) Acts of the Apostles are writings that describe the deeds ( Latin acta ), in particular the missionary journeys of one of the apostles (partly in a novel-like fantastic form) ; this is why the term “apocryphal novels of the Apostles” is also used. The example of such Acts of the Apostles is Luke's Acts of the Apostles , the second part of which tells of Paul's missionary journeys. Accordingly, for example, the "Acts of Thomas" are also called "Acts of the Apostles of Thomas".

The Manichean collection of the Acts of the Apostles , which is not to be seen as a separate work, includes the following apocryphal Acts:

Further Acts of the Apostles are:


It is a group of very different documents, some of which are simply post-compilations of quotations from Paul (from the canonical letters) to fill in gaps in Paul's biography. The Letter of Barnabas is actually not a letter, but rather a theological treatise that belongs to the group of the Apostolic Fathers and was at times canonical in some churches.


Authentic but not canonical works

These writings were mostly written by church fathers, are also recognized for their value, but are not considered writings that are generally binding for all times. Nonetheless, some of them were officially read out in the service at times.

Other writings


Text output

Secondary literature

Web links

Commons : Deuterocanonical books  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Apocryphal  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Apocrypha  Sources and Full Texts


  1. a b Adolf Jülicher: Art. Apokryphen. In: RE I, 2, Stuttgart 1894.
  2. a b c d Stefan Weggen: Art. Apocrypha. In: Eugen Biser, Ferdinand Hahn, Michael Langer (eds.): The faith of Christians. An ecumenical dictionary. Pattloch Verlag, Munich 1999, p. 28.
  3. a b c d Martin Beck:  Apokryphen (AT). In: Michaela Bauks, Klaus Koenen, Stefan Alkier (Hrsg.): The scientific Bibellexikon on the Internet (WiBiLex), Stuttgart February 2018., accessed on May 28, 2020.
  4. Helmut Zander : The Word of God has a very earthly story: How the Bible came into being (Review of: Konrad Schmid , Jens Schröter : The Origin of the Bible. From the First Texts to the Holy Scriptures. Munich 2019). In: NZZ , October 27, 2019, accessed on November 2, 2019.
  5. Franz Stuhlhofer : The use of the Bible from Jesus to Euseb. A statistical study of the canon history. Wuppertal 1988, pp. 50-55 (on the NT apocrypha) and page 149 (on the AT apocryphal).
  6. See e.g. B. Gerd Theißen, Annette Merz : The historical Jesus. A textbook. 3rd edition, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001 (1st edition 1996), ISBN 3-525-52198-7 : “Often the ThEv offers Logien in a traditionally older version than the Synoptic.” (P. 53) “If one sits Assuming that the ThEv has an independent tradition of early Christian sayings, its great historical importance is evident, especially because of the breadth of the content of the tradition. As with the Synoptic Gospels ... the prehistory of the sayings can be clarified ... "(p. 54).
  7. Detailed description: Johann Evangelist Hafner : Self-definition of Christianity. ( Memento from July 13, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) A systems-theoretical approach to the early Christian exclusion of Gnosis. Herder, Freiburg 2003, ISBN 3-451-28073-6
  8. ^ Franz Stuhlhofer : Apocrypha (NT) . In: Evangelical Lexicon for Theology and Congregation. Vol. 1, 1992, pp. 96f.
  9. Gerd Theißen: The historical Jesus . Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-525-52198-7 , p. 62
  10. Ox. Pap. X, 1914, pp. 1-10.
  11. Klaus Berger , Christiane Nord : The New Testament and early Christian writings. Frankfurt 1999, p. 312.
  12. ^ So Henry Chadwick : The Church in the Ancient World . Berlin 1972, p. 11.