What About the Apocrypha & Pseudepigrapha?

Some critics have questioned the inspiration and authority of the Bible by attacking the process that was used to recognize the books that are inspired, a process called canonization. Since critics have attacked the Bible by attempting to use the books that are called apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, it might be beneficial to look at what these books are, how they are different from the books of the Bible, and why we have the books of the Bible as opposed to some other collection of books.

The apocrypha refer to a series of books that Roman Catholics recognize as inspired, but protestants do not. During the Reformation period in the 1500s, one of the issues debated between Roman Catholics and Protestants were the apocryphal books, and Catholics responded with the statement made at the Council of Trent (1546-1563). Pseudepigrapha are books which claim to be written by a particular author, but were not, and are therefore ‘false writings’. The canon refers to Old and New Testament books accepted by all Christians, catholic and protestant.

One critic referred to apocrypha and pseudepigrapha as “frauds perpetrated by a deceitful lot.” This is an inaccurate representation. First, the apocrypha are rejected because of the lack of inspiration, not because of any fraud. The authorship may be known or unknown, but this does not constitute a misrepresentation. Second, the critics seem to imply that because the authorship is doubtful that the books are therefore factually inaccurate, which is not so. For example, Macabees is one of the apocryphal books. It is an historical account, and very well may reflect accurate history, but it is not inspired. If one were to uncover an ancient Jewish census record, it could be 100% accurate, but not included in the canon because it does not meet the test for canonicity, such as not being inspired and being of unproven authorship. No one ever claimed that all ancient books were in question. Third, while the pseudepigrapha admittedly claim authorship falsely, the process for identifying the true writings of the authors is objective and accurate, and applied by learned men who often knew the original authors and could determine the difference with certainty. Further, as already stated, the apocryphal writings with unknown authorship are not the same as being frauds; they are merely unknown. Fourth, since the pseudepigrapha are clearly identified and not accepted as inspired by catholics or protestants, they are a non-issue in determining whether the canonical books are correctly identified. Fifth, it is not clear as to whether customs of ancient disciples were to write in the names of their mentors as a common practice. While for canonical purposes this makes no difference as to the authenticity (they are still false), it does question as to whether even the pseudepigrapha can rightfully be called deceitful.

Therefore labeling books of unknown authorship or lack of divine inspiration as some sort of deceitful fraud is simply wrong. Suggesting that the process for determining the canon of the Bible is undistinguishable from apocrypha and pseudepigrapha shows a lack of understanding of the process for discovering the canon.

For an excellent series of descriptions relevant to this whole process, including why the apocrypha are rejected by protestants, see A General Introduction To The Bible by Geisler and Nix.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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13 Responses to What About the Apocrypha & Pseudepigrapha?

  1. Jude 1:14-15
    New International Version (NIV)
    14 Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones 15 to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”[a]

    Footnotes:
    Jude 1:15 From the Jewish First Book of Enoch (approximately the first century b.c.)

  2. humblesmith says:

    This is a good example of how not everything in the extra-biblical books is completely false. In this case an inspired writer, Jude, quotes an accurate passage from an extra-biblical book. In another passage in the New Testament, Paul quotes from a Greek poet to make a point to the athenian philosophers. Again, no one ever said that every word of every non-cononical book is false; rather, the books are just not inspired.

  3. CALL1161 says:

    What still confuses me is how they came up with which books were inspired and which ones were not. It wasn’t like God Himself came down and said, “Yeah, that one I did, and that one also. No, not that one or that one”. A bunch of men sat around and decided which books were inspired. How do we know that they were correct?

  4. Realistic says:

    “The apocrypha refer to a series of books that Roman Catholics recognize as inspired, but protestants do not.”
    The Catholics recognize those books as the “word of God”, while the Protestants refute this claim and aver that the books are not the “word of God”. So which camp is correct and which is deceiving us? Which one of these two has actually verified their stance with God himself? This ongoing religious squabble between the Catholics and the Protestants is the very evidence against the claim that canonicity is objective and accurate. The Catholics have their own set of the word of God but the Protestants have sifted out what they deem ‘inspired’ and left out the ‘uninspired’ word of God. If the process for canonizing scripture was indeed objective, there could have been no question as to what is inspired and what isn’t. Unfortunately, the rift between the Catholics and Protestants concerning the Apocrypha is indicative and proof of a subjective nature for canonization. The Protestants accuse the Catholics of inaccuracy while the Catholics do likewise to the Protestants. Indeed, this is blatant evidence for lack of objectivity when deciphering the will of God.
    “Pseudepigrapha are books which claim to be written by a particular author, but were not, and are therefore ‘false writings’.”
    “One critic referred to apocrypha and pseudepigrapha as “frauds perpetrated by a deceitful lot.” This is an inaccurate representation. First, the apocrypha are rejected because of the lack of inspiration, not because of any fraud. The authorship may be known or unknown, but this does not constitute a misrepresentation.”
    You say that the rejection is not because of deception on the part of the authors of these books. A deception is essentially a deliberate misrepresentation of facts by words, actions, etc. Let’s take The Testament of Solomon, an old testament pseudepigrapha, for instance. http://www.esotericarchives.com/solomon/testamen.htm Apparently, “this text is an Old Testament Pseudepigraphic catalog of demons summoned by King Solomon, and how they can be countered by invoking angels and other magical techniques. It is one of the oldest magical texts attributed to King Solomon, dating First to Third Century A.D.” It dates to the First and Third Century A.D., many centuries after the death of King Solomon. The author of this book is definitely not Solomon, but he contrived a fairytale built around King Solomon. In the story, he places King Solomon in a situation whereby he built the temple of God with the aid and assistance of the Devil and his demonic legions. According to the mutually-accepted scripture by the Catholics and Protestants, King Solomon indeed built the temple of God, but NOT with the help of the Devil! That would be utter blasphemy. However, a certain author who lived around the 1st to 3rd Century, who must have read the Old Testament, be it in Greek or Hebrew, wrote something contrary to the accepted word of God, deliberately. He willfully chose to misrepresent facts for whatever reason he had. Since you claim that “authorship may be known or unknown, but this does not constitute a misrepresentation”, would you care then to vouch for the contents of the Testament of Solomon with any of the accepted biblical word of God? If you can’t verify the assertions made in the Testament of Solomon by citing the Bible, this would constitute proof of a misrepresentation of biblical facts.
    “Second, the critics seem to imply that because the authorship is doubtful that the books are therefore factually inaccurate, which is not so.” No, critics care less about the doubtful authorship than the actual statements made in those books demonstrating and conveying the sentiments of the Divine and its Hosts. As demonstrated above, the critics stem from the internal evidence within the books themselves suggesting notions contrary to biblical facts, which in turn are thus deemed to be a deliberate misrepresentation of the Bible.
    “Third, while the pseudepigrapha admittedly claim authorship falsely, the process for identifying the true writings of the authors is objective and accurate, and applied by learned men who often knew the original authors and could determine the difference with certainty.”
    If objective, why the rift between the Catholics and the Protestants with regard to the Apocrypha?
    “Further, as already stated, the apocryphal writings with unknown authorship are not the same as being frauds; they are merely unknown.”
    “As demonstrated above, the critics stem from the internal evidence within the books themselves suggesting notions contrary to biblical facts, which in turn are thus deemed to be a deliberate misrepresentation of the Bible”, i.e. fraudulent.
    “Fourth, since the pseudepigrapha are clearly identified and not accepted as inspired by catholics or protestants, they are a non-issue in determining whether the canonical books are correctly identified.”
    False. This is a misrepresentation on your part, humblesmith. You deliberately excluded the Apocrypha, because you know damn well that the Catholics and Protestants disagree on them and that it is at the very core of the ongoing disagreement for determining what is inspired and what isn’t. I can only wonder why you too want to misrepresent the whole truth.
    “…it does question as to whether even the pseudepigrapha can rightfully be called deceitful.”
    Examine the Testament of Solomon carefully and then demonstrate that the words and deeds purported to have been spoken and undertaken by King Solomon, including the angelic and demonic antics, were indeed not a misrepresentation of biblical facts.

    • humblesmith says:

      Regarding your first, third, and fourth points, whether or not people disagree about the truth does not determine what is true or what is false. You seem to be saying that because humans disagree on the facts therefore nothing is true, or truth cannot be determined, or somehow both parties are wrong. Rather, statements of truth are not determined by how many people agree or disagree with it, but whether it corresponds to reality. So the whole point about protestants and catholics disagreeing on the apocrypha has nothing to do with whether they are actually inspired or not. People disagree on many things, and the truth is not determined by the degree of agreement or disagreement. (If I have misunderstood your comment, I beg your pardon.)

      Regarding the second point, the pseudepigrapha are indeed rejected because their authorship false. Perhaps I didn’t make a clear enough distinction in the post. One of the tests of a book for the canon is whether the authorship is known true. Thus all pseudepigrapha are rejected by both catholics and protestants because the authorship is known false (and also because portions disagree with accepted Biblical doctrines). On the other hand, the apocrypha are generally not held to be authorial frauds, and the writers are not held to be deceitful–the apocrypha are merely not inspired. The example I gave was of 1-II Macabees, an apocryphal (not pseudepigraphal) book, which could be accurate history. If, for example, the authorship of Macabees was known true, or if it were unknown, the book would not qualify as a deceitful fraud. Frauds are only in cases such as pseudepigrapha where the authorship is known false. You appear to have taken a point made about the apocrypha (that they are not rejected because of the authorship) and applied it to pseudepigraphal writings, such as the one you mention about the temple of Solomon. The psuedepigrapha and the apocrypha are both rejected, but for different reasons.

      Regarding your accusation that I misrepresented something, I beg to differ. I did not misrepresent anything, but merely made a distinction between the two categories of writings. If you go back and read my post, I think you’ll find that I first layed out the differences in the two categories, then dealt with issues separately. Your comment seemed to blend these together. Perhaps I should have made separate posts about the two categories of documents.

      • Realistic says:

        “First, the apocrypha are rejected because of the lack of inspiration, not because of any fraud.”
        “So the whole point about protestants and catholics disagreeing on the apocrypha has nothing to do with whether they are actually inspired or not.”

        You’re contradicting yourself, but we’ll shortly see why.

        “On the other hand, the apocrypha are generally not held to be authorial frauds, and the writers are not held to be deceitful–the apocrypha are merely not inspired.”

        False. Another misrepresentation of facts. The Apocrypha ARE authorial frauds and the writers WERE deceitful.

        “It is true, all the extant specimens of the apocryphal Gospels take the inspired evangelical documents as their starting-point. But the genuine Gospels are silent about long stretches of the life of Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, and St. Joseph. Frequently they give but a tantalizing glimpse of some episode on which we would fain be more fully informed. This reserve of the Evangelists did not satisfy the pardonable curiosity of many Christians eager for details, and the severe and dignified simplicity of their narrative left unappeased imaginations seeking the sensational and the marvellous. When, therefore, enterprising spirits responded to this natural craving by pretended Gospels full of romantic fables and fantastic and striking details, their fabrications were eagerly read and largely accepted as true by common folk who were devoid of any critical faculty and who were predisposed to believe what so luxuriously fed their pious curiosity. Both Catholics and Gnostics were concerned in writing these fictions. The former had no other motive than that of a PIOUS FRAUD..”Catholic Encyclopedia.

        • humblesmith says:

          The key term here is “apocryphal gospels” which is different than “the apocyrpha” which was the point of discussion. Please learn your context before you comment.

          • Realistic says:

            Please give us your detailed definition of the apocrypha, including the exact books you deem to be apocrypha.

          • humblesmith says:

            The lists of the books and their categories can be found in such works as:
            Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, by James Charlesworth
            The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, by R. H. Charles
            New Testament Apocrypha, M. R. James
            A General Introduction to the Bible, by Geisler and Nix.

            The Geisler & Nix book also has a lengthy explanation of the process and principles of canonization. You can also find a shorter explanation, but with good relevant comments, in Christianity Through the Centuries, by Earle Cairns, which is a standard church history book.
            What is generally called “the apocrypha” is properly called “the old testament apocrypha.” These are the books disputed between Catholics and Protestants, which came to a head during the Reformation & Council of Trent. When most people use the term “the apocrypha”, they are speaking of about 15 books which appear in Catholic bibles but not protestant, namely: Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Esdras, 1 & 2 Macabees, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Additions to Esther, Bel and the Dragon, Azariah, Susanah, Manasseh.

            The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha are the ones known false and accepted by no one. Charlesworth lists about 66 of these, including some fragments, while Geisler and Nix say that 18 are of “worthy mention,” namely: Book of Jubilee, Letter of Aristeas, Book of Adam & Eve, Martyrdom of Isaiah, 1 & 2 Enoch, 3 & 4 Macabees, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, and a few others.

            Once we get to the New Testament, the official designations get a bit fuzzy, for there are quite a large number of writings, many of which are merely letters from one church father to another that never pretended to be inspired. The James book lists about 20 (including fragments), while Geisler mentions 280, but lists titles for 2 or 3 dozen. For these, consider that many people had the same first name and no last name, which confuses matters a bit. For example, there is a “Letter of Barnabas” which is often called “Pseudo-Barnabas” since most bible scholars do not hold it to be THE Barnabas of the NT. But is it deceptive? Well, not if it was from someone else named Barnabas who never wanted it to be considered canonical, but yes if it was faked and pretended to be the Barnabas of the book of Acts. Bottom line, no one really knows. But bottom line is that no one accepts any of these as cononical, they are rejected by all major denominations and church fathers. The common list of these includes such books as Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Ebionites, Gospel of Peter, Psuedo-Barnabas, Gospel of the Egyptians, and others.

            The point is that we cannot lump all of these together….most of them are rejected by all Christians, and always have been. There are but a few OT Apocrypha which are in dispute, but for apologetic purposes are not at the top of the list of priorities. The OT and NT psuedepigrapha are rejected by all, while the OT apocrypha have been discussed at length over the centuries. As I said earlier, some, such as Macabees, may be accurate history and not authorial frauds, while others are inaccurate and fraudulent.

            Meanwhile, I’m not sure I’m getting your main point….are you claiming that because some books are disputed, therefore we cannot trust the 27 books of the New Testament which are accepted by all? Or am I missing your point? I don’t see how the disputed books or the rejected books have any relevance, since we can clearly tell the difference between them and the books accepted by all, and the books accepted by everyone are the ones with the central message of Christianity.

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