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The Apocrypha

'Saint Jerome' - detail from a painting by Carravaggio (1573-1610)

The title Apocrypha comes from a Greek word meaning concealed or hidden away. It was first applied by Jerome (c340-420AD) because the books concerned were not included in the original Hebrew canon of Scripture. Following Jerome, the Protestant Reformers took the view that they were of lesser value than those generally accepted as Scripture. At around the same time, the Roman Catholic Church fixed the number of books in the Old Testament Apocrypha at fourteen, and it is these books we list in the table on this page. These books are also sometimes referred to as the Deuterocanonical books, meaning second (or secondary) canon. This term is applied when they are inserted in the main body of the Old Testament, as is the general practice in Roman Catholic Bibles.

There is also an collection of apocryphal books for the New Testament. This is a rather indefinite body of writings, including some additional "gospels" and "letters" attributed mainly to various New Testament personalities. However, these have never commanded any measure of general acceptance, and are not included on this page.

In addition, a wider collection of books also exists, dating from the period between the Old and New Testaments, composed mostly by Jews. Although preserved by the early Christians, these have never been as highly regarded as the Old Testament Apocrypha. This group of books is sometimes referred to as the Pseudepigrapha. It includes the Book of Enoch from which Jude quotes in Jude 14-15.

(Because a biblical writer includes a quotation in his writing, this does not necessarily mean the quotation is inspired, as for example when the apostle Paul quotes from a Greek poet when addressing the Athenian Areopagus (Acts 17:28).)

History of the Apocrypha

Christians have disputed over this group of books since earliest times. Indeed, this dispute goes back to even before the Christian era. Although they never formed part of the original Hebrew canon of Scripture, they were gradually included in the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint), and, after some initial hesitation, also in the Latin version derived from it (the Vulgate).

The Septuagint was a translation made initially for the benefit of the Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria around 200 BC. The name is derived from the Latin for seventy as tradition holds it was prepared by a team of seventy-two translators, consisting of six elders from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Septuagint is particularly important to readers and students of the New Testament because not only is it the version of the Old Testament most frequently quoted by the writers of the New, but it also established many of the words used by the New Testament writers when referring to Old Testament institutions.

The Vulgate became the official Latin version of the Scriptures in the Western Church until the Reformation. It was made by (or under the direction of) Jerome in consultation with Jewish teachers, and drew heavily on Jewish tradition. Although Jerome at first excluded the apocryphal books, as he called them, on the grounds that they did not appear in the Hebrew canon, he was later persuaded to include them. It was only from the thirteenth century onwards that, perhaps rather ironically, Jerome's translation became known as the Vulgate, deriving its name from the Latin word vulgare meaning "to make common", something it signally failed to do, since by that time Latin was the language only of the educated classes.

At the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church decided (1546) to continue to include most of the Apocrypha in its Bibles. However, because of their rather uncertain pedigree, many of the Reformers thought the books were not truly Scripture in the same way as the Old and New Testaments. Others, including Luther and The Church of England, took a middle course. So for example, Article 6 of the Church of England's 39 Articles states that the books may be read for instruction of manners (that is, to determine Christian conduct) but not used to establish any doctrine.

Although the Apocrypha was included in the Authorised Version of 1611, largely because of its familiarity, it was relegated to a separate section between the Old and New Testaments, and in those versions which include it, this has been its almost invariable position in Protestant Bibles ever since. In Roman Catholic Bibles the books are normally retained in the main body of the Old Testament, where they are referred to as the Deuterocanonical (= second canon [or secondary]) books.

Both the Greek and Russian Orthodox traditions accept all the apocryphal books recognised by the Roman church as forming part of the their canons of Scripture, together with certain additional books, as we note below the main table in our next section.

The text of the Decree of the Council of Trent, which affirmed the books of the Apocrypha as canonical in the sight of the Roman Catholic Church, may be viewed in both Latin and English.

For those who wish to explore the origin of the Apocrypha and the issue of canonicity from the Protestant standpoint more fully, we recommend the articles How Many Books are in the Bible? and Old Testament Canon and Apocrypha.

The Books

There is little consistency between versions as to the order or exact titles of the books constituting the Apocrypha. Our table attempts to place the books into logical groups. The titles we have shown represent an eclectic list based generally on those adopted by the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

The Books of the Apocrypha
Group Books

General (Narrative)

Tobit (or Tobias)
Additions to Esther Additions to the Book of Esther
to Daniel

Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews (or Song of the Three (Holy) Children)

Bel and the Dragon
Wisdom Wisdom of Solomon

Ecclesiasticus (or Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach)

Prophecy *Baruch (or 1 Baruch)
History 1 Maccabees
2 Maccabees
**Appendix Prayer of Manasseh
3 Esdras (or 1 Esdras)
4 Esdras (or 2 Esdras)

A selection of books from the Apocrypha may be read online in the NETBible.


*Chapter 6 of Baruch was originally a separate work called the Letter of Jeremiah, and is included as an individual book in some versions (eg NRSV).

** The three books in this group were included as an appendix in the Vulgate as not being truly canonical. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah in the Old Testament were called 1 and 2 Esdras in the Vulgate, hence the different numbering used by churches of other traditions (see below) and some Protestant versions.

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The Apocrypha in the Orthodox Traditions

The Greek Orthodox Church accepts as canonical all the books shown in our table with the addition of  Psalm 151 (which follows Psalm 150 in the Greek Bible) and 3 Maccabees. This Church adds a book of 4 Maccabees as an appendix. (3 and 4 Maccabees are found in some secondary manuscripts of the Septuagint.)

In the Greek Bible 1 Esdras is the same as 3 Esdras in the Vulgate Appendix and 2 Esdras in the Russian (Slavonic) Bible, and is accepted as canonical. The Prayer of Manasseh (as in the Vulgate Appendix) is also accepted as canonical by the Greek Orthodox Church.

The Russian (Slavonic) Orthodox Church also accepts as canonical all the books shown in our table with the addition of Psalm 151 and 3 Maccabees (as in the Greek Bible).

In the Russian Bible 1 & 2 Esdras correspond to 3 & 4 Esdras in the Vulgate Appendix.

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What ought Christians today to make of the Apocrypha? Should they accept it and read it like any other Scripture, or should they, following the Reformers, either discard it entirely or treat it as a collection of "second-class" Scripture?

These are matters on which we consider it beyond our mandate to adjudicate. We recommend that until you are in a position to exercise true judgment you should accept the practice of your own Church tradition.

We would, however, recommend that you read the remainder of the Bible before attempting to tackle the books of the Apocrypha. For in the Old and New Testaments, as universally accepted throughout the Christian Church, there is everything needed to enable you regain and increase complete Confidence in the Word. Only when you have assimilated what the whole Church has never doubted to be the authentic Word of God will you then be able to judge for yourself whether or not the apocryphal/deuterocanonical books are also authentic.

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