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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The New Testament Apocrypha Books

Don Stewart :: What Is the New Testament Apocrypha?

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What Is the New Testament Apocrypha?

The New Testament Apocrypha – Question 1

The word, “apocrypha” actually refers to two different collections of books. One of them is Jewish and the other collection is Christian. It is important that we understand the distinction.

There were a number of books written after the Old Testament period, 1400-400 B.C., which have had some sort of authority claimed for them. Though rejected by the Jews and Jesus, some Christians believe these works should be part of the Old Testament canon. These books are known as the Old Testament Apocrypha. Some people, when they use the word, “apocrypha” are referring to this special group of writings.

However, we also find apocryphal books written after the New Testament period. Certain of these works had some type of authority claimed for them for a limited period of time while others were always rejected by the church. These particular writings are known as the New Testament Apocrypha. A number of points about the New Testament Apocrypha should be noted.

The New Testament Apocrypha Is Rejected by All Christians

There is one main difference between the Old Testament Apocrypha and the New Testament Apocrypha. The books of the Old Testament Apocrypha have been accepted as canonical by some Christians while the New Testament Apocrypha are rejected as canonical by all believers.

Most Were Pseudonymously Written

Most of these apocryphal works were pseudonymously written; the actual writer wrote under the name of a known New Testament character. The fact that the authorship was attributed to a personage who is prominent in the New Testament would give it an instant readership in some circles.

We can make the following observation about the New Testament Apocrypha:

The Apocryphal Writings Used the Same Literary Forms as the New Testament

The writings known as the New Testament Apocrypha can, for the most part, be broken down into four basic literary forms. They are gospels, acts, letters, and apocalypses. These are the same literary forms in which the various books of the New Testament have been written. Therefore, these works copied the style of writing that we find in the New Testament. We can summarize these written works as follows:

1. Apocryphal Gospels

To begin with, there were apocryphal gospels. These works contain alleged events and sayings from the life of Jesus Christ. They fall into two general categories. Some of the writings attempted to fill in the gaps in the life and ministry of Jesus. Basically, they supplement what the four gospels say about Jesus’ words and his deeds. The motivation behind these writings was to provide additional information that is not found in the gospels.

However, there were other gospels written that were meant to take the place of the four gospels. These writings attempt to be “the” authoritative work on what Jesus said and did. Those who composed these gospels were not believers in the real Jesus, but rather had their own particular viewpoint to put across. Hence, they wrote competing gospels. These competing gospels were meant to replace the canonical gospels.

2. Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles

The Acts of the Apostles, the story of the beginning of the early church, also had apocryphal accounts written. The most notable are the Acts of Paul, the Acts of Peter, the Acts of John, the Acts of Andrew, and the Acts of Thomas. These works circulated as a group and received acceptance in some circles. However, there is no reason at all to consider them authentic in any sense of the word.

3. Apocryphal Letters

A third category of apocryphal works were letters. There were letters that purported to come from one of the New Testament figures. As is true with the apocryphal gospels and acts, these letters were not written by the alleged author. The apocryphal letters were fewer in number than the apocryphal gospels, acts, and apocalypses because of the difficulty of making the letter look and sound authentic.

4. Apocryphal Apocalypses

The Book of Revelation is known as an apocalypse; a work that unveils what will happen in the future. In the early church, there were a number of apocryphal apocalypses that circulated. Most notably were ones which were falsely attributed to Peter and Paul. Again, these works were not written by biblical characters, but rather were forgeries.

These four categories sum up the works known as the New Testament Apocrypha. While these writings are not taken seriously by Bible believers, unfortunately, there are unbelievers who attempt to give some status to these documents. Yet, there are no historical reasons for doing this.

Summary – Question 1
What Is the New Testament Apocrypha?

There are two collections of apocryphal books that have come down to us; the Old Testament Apocrypha and the New Testament Apocrypha. The first collection was written by Jews while the second collection was written by Christians, or those who had their own unique understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus; the New Testament Apocrypha.

The books that we call the New Testament Apocrypha, for the most part, are written in the same literary style as the New Testament. Therefore, we find gospels, acts, letters, and apocalypses. Thus, we find the desire to imitate the sacred writings.

While some of the Old Testament apocryphal books have been received as authoritative by some Christians, this is not true with respect to the New Testament. None of the New Testament Apocrypha have been accepted by any of the major branches of Christianity. Everyone realizes the lack of divine authority behind these writings. However, this has not stopped unbelievers from attempting to equate these writings with the New Testament documents. Indeed, there are some today who give certain of these works equal or greater respect than they do the New Testament documents. Yet, there are no good reasons for doing this.

Books That Don’t Belong in the New Testament ← Prior Section
What Are Some of the Important Apocryphal Gospels? Next Section →
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