About Early Christian Apocrypha
"Early Christian Apocrypha" or "New Testament Apocrypha" refers to a diverse set of early Christian writings that bear some formal resemblance to the canonical New Testament books
This guide is designed to assist the study of these documents.
If you are looking for an English translation of a particular apocryphal work, see the Early Christian Apocrypha Alphabetical List.
For good introductory information, see the Wabash Center Internet Guide to Religion on the Early Church.
Here are some sources for finding articles on Early Christian Apocrypha:
ATLA Religion Database (EBSCO)
Christian Periodical Index (EBSCO)
New Testament Abstracts (EBSCO)
New and Noteworthy
- "A modern collection of writings that were composed before the end of the fourth century, when there was not yet an accepted definition of orthodoxy, heresy, or canon, and that were usually written in imitation of the documents eventually considered canonical" (Charlesworth, Authentic Apocrypha, 23).
- "New Testament apocrypha are writings which originated in the first centuries of Church history, and which through title, Gattung or content stand in a definite connection with the NT writings" (Wilhelm Schneemelcher says, New Testament Apocrypha, 1:61).
- J. K. Elliott, rather than providing a definition, notes the inadequacies of the designation even as he uses it: it implies that this was a recognized, fixed body of texts; that all these texts have an obvious relationship to genres found in the New Testament canon; and that they were all secret, spurious or heterodox writings (Apocryphal New Testament, xi-xii).
- Other scholars have proposed terms such as "rewritten Bible" or "parabiblical writings" to describe this material, but "Early Christian Apocrypha" has become a common designation.
"Apostolic Fathers" is a term used since the 17th century to designate a group of early Christian writers in the period immediately following the apostolic age, including Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp. Some of these writings were found in early biblical manuscripts. The Apostolic Fathers include:
- I & II Clement
- Letters of Ignatius
- Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians
- Letter of Barnabas
- Shepherd Of Hermas
- Martyrdom Of Polycarp
- Letter Of Diognetus
- Papias (fragments)
- Quadratus (fragments)
Early Christian writings that present themselves as the tradition of the apostles concerning the proper ordering of community life. They give instruction on church organization, explain the qualifications and responsibilities of various orders of ministry, and prescribe rituals for sacraments and worship. These are anonymous documents, so their provenance and origins must be inferred; while they circulated widely, they do not represent official decisions of bishops, councils, or synods. However, they would lay the foundations of what would become canon law.
There are many early Christian accounts of martyrdom and exemplary Christian witness, usually known as “hagiography.” These accounts have their roots in the New Testament, Apostolic Fathers, and apocryphal Acts; they flourished in the 4th century, grew ever more influential in medieval times, and have continued to make their mark even in the modern age. Originally diverse in literary character, these texts took on stereotypical forms as “passions” (passio) of martyrs and “lives” (vitae) of saints. Modern scholarship, particularly in the work of the Bollandist fathers, has established critical editions of these texts, and also separated myths, legends, and spurious documents from reliable accounts. More recent work has looked at hagiography as a unique source for social history.
Collection of thirteen codices discovered near the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945. The leather-bound papyrus books, dating from the 3rd and 4th centuries C.E., contained fifty-two texts written in Coptic; they proved to be Christian Gnostic writings from the 2nd through 4th centuries, probably originally written in Greek. Scholars believe that the codices were buried, possibly by monks at a nearby monastery, soon after the 367 decree of Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, that believers reject Gnostic writings. Before the discovery, many of these writings were known only by title or fragmentary copies, and some were wholly unknown; their re-appearance has provided significant new data for scholars of the New Testament and early Christianity.
Ancient writings attributed to Old Testament characters and settings but not included in the canons of Judaism or Christianity. This encompasses a wide variety of texts, some of which show Christian influence (e.g., Ascension of Isaiah).
Late medieval and modern documents attributed to New Testament characters and settings. These range from simple pious frauds such as the 13th century Letter of Lentulus, a physical description of Jesus which was often printed with 19th-century Bibles, to more extensive (and perhaps devious) works such as The Archko Volume, a proven 19th-century hoax which has been reprinted several times since then, presumably by credulous believers (BT441 .M277). Older studies such as Goodspeed and Beskow tend to take a dismissive attitude to these "modern forgeries"; a more recent approach has been to examine more closely the religious impulses that give rise to such apocrypha and pseudepigrapha.
Other modern apocrypha include:
- Gospel of Barnabas (14th-16th century); BS2860 .B4 A3 1973.
- Death Warrant of Jesus (16th century).
- The Crucifixion, by an Eye-Witness (19th century).
- Twenty-Ninth Chapter of Acts (19th century).
- Report of Pilate (19th century).
- Confession of Pontius Pilate (19th century; PR6037 .H83 C7).
- Unknown Life of Jesus Christ (Life of Issa) (19th century; BT520 .N85).
- Gospel of the Holy Twelve (20th century).
- Long-Lost Second Book of Acts (20th century).
- Letter of Benan (Der Benanbrief) (20th century).
- Gospel of Josephus (20th century; see Goodspeed, Modern Apocrypha (STORAGELIB BS2840 .G59), 76-80).
- The Aquarian Gospel (20th century; BT520 .D756).
- The Gospel of Peace (20th century; BT295 .S95 1975).
- The “Amusing Agraphon” (20th century; see Metzger, Reminiscences of an Octogenarian (BS2351 .M48 A3 1997), 136-39).
- The Jesus Scroll (20th century; BT303 .J68 1973).
Some scholars would include Secret Gospel of Mark.
- A norm, rule, or authoritative guide
- A list or catalogue.
- Stages of the formation of the NT Canon
- The recognition of certain Christian writings as scripture (mid-1st to mid-2nd century).
- The informal adoption of a core group of about twenty authoritative documents, with another indeterminate number subject to debate or uncertainty (mid-2nd to mid-3rd century).
- Formal canonization of the New Testament, with certain books included and others excluded (3rd and 4th centuries).
- Canonical lists from this processs
- Muratorian Canon usually dated at the end of the 2nd century, but considered 4th century by some; its list is close to the final NT canon, but omitted 1-2 Peter while including Apocalypse of Peter (and also the Wisdom of Solomon as NT).
- Origen (First Homily on Luke; also Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6:25) spoke of “acknowledged” and “disputed” books, and treated 1 Clement, Barnabas, and Shepherd of Hermas as scripture (4th century).
- Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 2:23; 3:3, 25) listed three categories: books “accepted,” “disputed,” and “spurious” (4th century).
- Codex Claromontanus Catalog (4th century), a bilingual manuscript of Pauline epistles with a catalog of Old and New Testament books; it included Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Acts of Paul, and Apocalypse of Peter, but omitted Hebrews.
- Athanasius of Alexandria, Festal Letter (367), the earliest list that corresponds to the current NT canon.
- Gelasian Decree (6th century), which listed both the canonical Scriptures and “books to be received” among the patristic and apocryphal works.
- Catalog of the Sixty canonical books (7th century), which excluded the Book of Revelation but contained a list of apocryphal works that includes Old Testament apocrypha and peudepigrapha, early Christian apocrypha, and Apostolic Fathers.
- Stichometry of Nicephorus (9th century) also omitted Book of Revelation, but included Old Testament apocrypha and peudepigrapha, early Christian apocrypha, and Apostolic Fathers.
- Criteria of Canonicity - The early Church never defined the criteria of canonicity was determined, but main factors seem to be:
- Apostolicity (writings written or authorized by an apostle).
- Orthodoxy in teaching.
- Antiquity, whether a writing stemmed from the apostolic age.
- Usage in worship and instruction, especially by larger churches.
Works about Early Christian Apocrypha are shelved by call numbers BS2831 through BS2970.
- BS2850-2860 Gospels
- BS2870-2880 Acts
- BS2890-2900 Epistles
- BS2910-2920 Apocalypses
- BS2930-2940 Didactic works
- BS2950-2960 Doctrinal works
- BS2970 Apocryphal writings and sayings of Jesus. Agrapha. Logia
To find works in DiscoverE:
Choose "Advanced Search"
Change the drop-downs to "subject" and "is (exact)"
Use terms like:
- Apocryphal books (New Testament)
- Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles
- Apocryphal Gospels
- Apocryphal infancy Gospels
For particular apocryphal books, search the name of the book:
- Acts of John
- Gospel of Thomas
- Apocalypse of Peter
Journals that Cover Early Christian Apocrypha
--Mostly French articles, some English.
Introductions to Early Christian Apocrypha
--Full bibliography. Excellent introduction.
--See also: Great Courses audio series covering the same ground (Pitts Theology Library MEDIA BS2840 .E44 2002 V.1-6 + BK CD).
--Arrangement by geography rather than genre
--For advanced students.
--Sticks to gospel material. Available in translation as Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction.
--Concentrates on the various Acts.
--Includes: Nag Hammadi, infancy gospels, dialogue gospels, and other examples.
--Good bibliography and notes for further reading.