Definition of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha

What are these writings?

The Bible (Old and New Testaments) is a wonderful library of the writings of prophets and apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Written from a number of locations over a period spanning hundreds of years, it relates the history of some of the interactions people have had with the one God. It also reflects the various cultures in which those people lived.

Studying similar writings of Christians and Jews of the early centuries–some prior to and some following their biblical counterparts–helps us to understand the history and culture of Bible times, as well gain insights into the religious environment of the day.

Definition of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha – Apocryphal (“hidden”) and pseudepigraphal (“false author”) literature were written as vehicles for expressing religious ideas–some orthodox and some heretical. The author claimed in a pseudepigraphical work is nearly always some biblical character, either a famous one or some obscure person who “rubbed elbows” with the famous ones.

The Old Testament Apocrypha contains writings from the period between the close of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New (about 400 BCE to 50 CE). They follow the same genres found in the Old Testament, including history, prophecy, poetry, and wisdom literature.

The apocryphal gospels tell fictional stories about Jesus’ life and ministry, sometimes in an attempt to fill in the gaps we find in the canonical gospels (like what Jesus did from ages of 12 to 30). Apocryphal “Acts” do the same thing for the apostles on whom the spotlight in Luke’s Acts did not fall. There are also apocryphal epistles and apocalypses. Much of the pseudepigraphical Christian literature are oriented toward Gnosticism, a blend of Greek philosophy and Judaeo-Christian teaching that began in the first Christian century and only became a fully developed heresy in the centuries that followed.

For Christians, these writings do not provide doctrinal information, but they do yield insights into what people were thinking in biblical times and shortly thereafter.

Want to dive deeper?

We have indexed the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha for you here:

Available for purchase at great discounts:

  1. Apocrypha
    1. Introduction – Introduction to the Apocrypha by Bruce M. Metzger
    2. Text (in English) – New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha – NRSV (4th edition)
  2. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha
    1. Introduction – Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period by Larry R. Helyer
    2. Text (in English) – OT Pseudepigrapha, (2 vols.), ed. by James Charlesworth
  3. New Testament Pseudepigrapha
    1. Introduction – Introduction to the New Testament Apocrypha
    2. Texts (in English) – Apocryphal New Testament, ed. J. K. Elliott | The Nag Hammadi Library