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What is an “apocryphal” book of the Bible?


Alexey Fedorenko | Shutterstock

Philip Kosloski - published on 10/13/19

The word can be confusing as it has been used in different ways over the centuries.

Among Protestants and Catholics the words “apocrypha” or “apocryphal” are frequently used when talking about particular books of the Bible. The word is even used in various editions of the Bible, explaining that this Bible has the “apocrypha” included.

What does it mean?

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the word has had varying definitions over the years.

Etymologically, the derivation of Apocrypha is very simple, being from the Greek apokryphos, hidden, and corresponding to the neuter plural of the adjective…When we would attempt to seize the literary sense attaching to the word, the task is not so easy. It has been employed in various ways by early patristic writers, who have sometimes entirely lost sight of the etymology. Thus it has the connotation “uncanonical” with some of them. St. Jerome evidently applied the term to all quasi-scriptural books which in his estimation lay outside the canon of the Bible, and the Protestant Reformers, following Jerome’s catalogue of Old Testament Scriptures…applied the title Apocrypha to the excess of the Catholic canon of the Old Testament over that of the Jews.

Protestants principally use the word to identify those books that are not included in their versions of the Bible. This is based on the fact most Protestants use a list of books of the Old Testament that were approved by Hebrew scholars at a later date. Catholics, on the other hand, use the Greek Septuagint as the primary basis for the Old Testament.

Read more:
What is the Septuagint and why is it important?

This means that Protestant Bibles have only 39 books in the Old Testament, while Catholic Bibles have 46. The seven additional books included in Catholic Bibles are Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch. The Catholic canon also includes sections of the Books of Esther and Daniel that are not found in Protestant Bibles.

Protestants call these books “apocrypha,” while Catholics traditionally call them “deuterocanonical.” This word is translated as “second canon” and has a more positive connotation, since those books are not deemed non-canonical in the Catholic Church.

Catholics typically refer to other early Christian writings as “apocryphal.” These include such writings as the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Didache (Teaching) of the Twelve Apostles, and the Apostolic Canons and Constitutions, which were nearly bundled together with the New Testament. .

As a result, the word holds different meaning depending on the group of Christians that use it.


Read more:
This ancient book nearly made it into the Bible


Read more:
Where did the Bible come from?

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