Biblical Apocrypha

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"Gutenberg Bible"

The biblical apocrypha includes texts written in the Jewish and Christian religious traditions that either:

A comparative list can be found in the article on books of the Bible. For extra-biblical works sometimes referred to as apocrypha, see the article on apocrypha.

The biblical apocrypha are sometimes referred to as the Apocrypha. Although the term apocrypha simply means hidden, this usage is sometimes considered pejorative by those who consider such works to be canonical parts of their scripture.

Apocrypha in the editions of the Bible

Surviving manuscripts of the whole Christian Bible include at least some of the Apocrypha as well as disputed books. After the Protestant and Catholic canons were defined by Luther and Trent respectively, early Protestant and Catholic editions of the Bible did not omit these books, but placed them in a separate Apocrypha section apart from the Old and New Testaments to indicate their status.

The Gutenberg Bible

This famous edition of the Vulgate was published in 1455. Like the manuscripts on which it was based, the Gutenberg Bible lacked a specific Apocrypha section;[1] its Old Testament included the books that Jerome considered apocryphal, and those which Clement VIII would later move to the appendix. The Prayer of Manasses was located after the Books of Chronicles, and 3, 4 Esdras followed 2 Esdras, and Prayer of Solomon followed Ecclesiasticus.

The Luther Bible

Martin Luther translated the Bible into German during the early part of the 16th century, first releasing a complete Bible in 1534. His Bible was the first major edition to have a separate section called Apocrypha. Books and portions of books not found in the Hebrew Tanakh were moved out of the body of the Old Testament to this section.[2] The books 1 and 2 Esdras were omitted entirely.[3] Luther placed these books between the Old and New Testaments. For this reason, these works are sometimes known as inter-testamental books. Many twentieth century editions of the Luther Bible omit the Apocrypha section.

Luther also expressed some doubts about the canonicity of four New Testament books: the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistles of James and Jude, and the Revelation to John. He did not put them in a separate section, but he did move them to the end of the New Testament.[4]

The Clementine Vulgate

In 1592 Pope Clement VIII published his revised edition of the Vulgate. He moved three books not found in the canon of the Council of Trent into an appendix, "ne prorsus interirent," "lest they utterly perish".[5]

All the other books of the Old Testament, including the deuterocanonical books, were placed in their traditional positions.


Apocrypha of the King James Version

The English-language King James Version of 1611 followed the lead of the Luther Bible in using an inter-testamental section labelled "Books called Apocrypha". It included those books of the Vulgate and the Septuagint which were not in Luther's canon. These are the books which are most frequently referred to by the casual appellation "the Apocrypha". They comprise the following:[6]

These books are also listed in Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.[7]

Other 16th century Bible editions

All English translations of the Bible printed in the sixteenth century included a section or appendix for Apocryphal books. Matthew's Bible, published in 1537, contains all the Apocrypha of the later King James Version in an inter-testamental section. The 1538 Myles Coverdale Bible contained the Apocrypha minus Baruch and the Prayer of Manasses. The 1560 Geneva Bible placed the Prayer of Manasses after 2 Chronicles, with the rest of the Apocrypha in an inter-testamental section. The Douay-Rheims Bible (1582-1609) placed the Prayer of Manasses and 3 and 4 Esdras into an appendix of the second volume of the Old Testament.

In 1569 the Spanish Reina Bible following the example of the pre-Clementine Latin Vulgate contained the deuterocanonical books in its Old Testament. Valera's 1602 revision of the Reina Bible removed these books into an inter-Testamental section following the other Protestant translations of its day.

Modern editions

All King James Bibles published before 1640 included the Apocrypha. In 1826, the British and Foreign Bible Society decided to refuse to distribute Bibles containing the Apocrypha. Since then most modern editions of the Bible and re-printings of the King James Bible omit the Apocrypha section. Many modern reprintings of the Clementine Vulgate and Douay-Rheims version no longer contain the Apocrypha section. Many of the more modern translations and revisions do not contain an apocrypha section at all.

There are some exceptions to this trend, however. Some editions of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible include not only the Apocrypha listed above, but also the third and fourth books of the Maccabees, and Psalm 151; the RSV Apocrypha also lists the Letter of Jeremiah (Epistle of Jeremy in the KJV) as separate from the book of Baruch. The American Bible Society lifted restrictions on the publication of Bibles with the Apocrypha in 1964. The British and Foreign Bible Society followed in 1966.[8] The Stuttgart edition of the Vulgate (the printed edition, not most of the on-line editions), which is published by the UBS, contains the Clementine Apocrypha as well as the Epistle to the Laodiceans and Psalm 151.

Brenton's edition of the Septuagint includes all of the Apocrypha found in the King James Bible with the exception of 2 Esdras, which is no longer extant in Greek.[9] He places them in a separate section at the end of his Old Testament, following English tradition. In Greek circles, however, these books are not traditionally called Apocrypha, but Anagignoskomena, and are integrated into the Old Testament.


The Septuagint, the pre-eminent Greek version of the Old Testament, contains books that are not present in the Hebrew bible. These texts are not traditionally segregated into a separate section, nor are they usually called apocrypha. They are referred to as the Anagignoskomena. The anagignoskomena are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Jesus Sirach, Baruch, Epistle of Jeremy (sometimes considered chapter 6 of Baruch), additions to Daniel (The Prayer of Azarias, Sosanna and Bel and the Dragon), additions to Esther, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, and Psalm 151. 4 Maccabees is relegated to an appendix in modern editions of the Greek Bible. Some editions add the Odes, including the Prayer of Manasses. Some Slavic Orthodox Bibles add 2 Esdras; the Greek text of that book did not survive, however.


Technically a pseudepigraphon is a book written in a biblical style which is ascribed to an author who did not write it. In common usage, however, the term pseudepigrapha is often used by way of distinction to refer to apocryphal writings which do not appear in printed editions of the Bible, as opposed to the apocryphal texts listed above. Examples[10] include:

Often included among the pseudepigrapha are 3 and 4 Maccabees because they are not traditionally found in western Bibles, although they are in the Septuagint. Similarly, the Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees are often listed with the pseudepigrapha although they are commonly included in Ethiopian Bibles.

Cultural impact

Biblical canon


Vulgate prologues

Jerome completed his version of the Bible, the Latin Vulgate, in 405. In the middle ages the Vulgate became the de facto standard version of the Bible in the West. These Bibles were divided into Old and New Testaments only; there was no separate Apocrypha section. Nevertheless, the Vulgate manuscripts included prologues[12] which clearly identified certain books of the Vulgate Old Testament as apocryphal or non-canonical. In the prologue to the books of Samuel and Kings, which is often called the Prologus Galeatus, Jerome described those books not translated from the Hebrew as apocrypha; he specifically mentions that Wisdom, the book of Jesus son of Sirach, Judith, Tobias, and the Shepherd "are not in the canon". In the prologue to Esdras he mentions 3 and 4 Esdras as being apocrypha. In his prologue to the books of Solomon, he mentioned "the book of Jesus son of Sirach and another pseudepigraphos, which is titled the Wisdom of Solomon". He says of them and Judith, Tobias, and the Books of the Maccabees, that the Church "has not received them among the canonical scriptures".

He mentions the book of Baruch in his prologue to the Jeremias and does not explicitly refer to it as apocryphal, but he does mention that "it is neither read nor held among the Hebrews". In his prologue to the Judith he mentions that "among the Hebrews, the authority [of Judith] came into contention", but that it was "counted in the number of Sacred Scriptures" by the First Council of Nicaea.

Although in his Apology against Rufinus, Book II he denied the authority of the canon of the Hebrews, this caveat does not appear in the prologues themselves, nor in his prologues does he specify the authorship of the canon he describes. Whatever its origin or authority, it was this canon without qualification which was described in the prologues of the bibles of Western Europe.


The Apocrypha of the King James Bible constitutes the books of the Vulgate that are present neither in the Hebrew Old Testament nor the Greek New Testament. Since these are derived from the Septuagint, from which the old Latin version was translated, it follows that the difference between the KJV and the Roman Catholic Old Testaments is traceable to the difference between the Palestinian and the Alexandrian canons of the Old Testament. This is only true with certain reservations, as the Latin Vulgate was revised by Jerome according to the Hebrew, and, where Hebrew originals were not found, according to the Septuagint. Furthermore, the Vulgate omits 3 and 4 Maccabees, which generally appear in the Septuagint, while the Septuagint and Luther's Bible omit 4 Ezra, which is found in the Apocrypha of the Vulgate and the King James Bible. Luther's Bible, moreover, also omits 3 Ezra. It should further be observed that the Clementine Vulgate places the Prayer of Manasses and 3 and 4 Ezra in an appendix after the New Testament as apocryphal.

It is hardly possible to form any classification which is not open to some objection. Scholars are still divided as to the original language, date, and place of composition of some of the books which must come under this provisional attempt at order. (Thus some of the additions to Daniel and the Prayer of Manasseh are most probably derived from a Semitic original written in Palestine, yet in compliance with the prevailing opinion they are classed under Hellenistic Jewish literature. Again, the Slavonic Enoch goes back undoubtedly in parts to a Semitic original, though most of it may have been written by a Greek Jew in Egypt.)

A distinction can be made between:

  • the Palestinian, and
  • the Hellenistic literature

of the Old Testament, though even is open to serious objections. The former literature was written in Hebrew or Aramaic, and seldom in Greek; the latter naturally in Greek.

Next, within these literatures there are three or four classes of subject material.

  • Historical,
  • Legendary (Haggadic),
  • Apocalyptic,
  • Didactic or Sapiential.

The Apocrypha proper then would be classified as follows:--




  • O. F. Fritzsche and Grimm, Kurzgef. exeget. Handbuch zu den Apok. des A.T. (Leipzig, 1851-1860)
  • Edwin Cone Bissell, Apocrypha of the Old Testament (Edinburgh, 1880)
  • Otto Zöckler, Die Apokryphen des Alten Testaments (Munchen, 1891)
  • Henry Wace, The Apocrypha ("Speaker's Commentary") (1888)

Introduction and General Literature:

  • Emil Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes, vol. iii. 135 sqq., and his article on "Apokryphen" in Herzog's Realencykl. i. 622-653
  • Porter in James Hastings's Dictionary of the Bible. i. 111-123.