Definition: Apocrypha
(lit. Greek: "out of the writings"). Books not included in the Hebrew canon of the Old Testament, but included in the Greek Septuagint. Catholic and Orthodox Christans include the Apocrypha in the canon of scripture; Protestant Christians do not.

The Apocrypha is a group of 13 Jewish texts written from about the 5th century BCE to the 1st century BCE, which is between the dates of the Jewish Bible (the Christian Old Testament) and the New Testament. The Apocrypha was included in the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures (Septuagint) and the Christian Bible until the Reformation.

The Apocrypha in Judaism

The books of the Apocrypha were regarded by Jewish sages as Sefarim hizonim, extraneous books, and were not part of the Hebrew canon (officially accepted scriptures). {1} They are also known as "Deuterocanonical" writings, meaning "second canon," which signifies that they are important but not on par with the canon.

The Apocrypha in Christianity

At the time of Christ, two versions of the Jewish Bible were in circulation: a Hebrew version and a Greek version. The Greek version is known as the "Septuagint" (or "LXX" for short), after the legend that 72 translators, working independently, came up with identical Greek translations. Since most of the early Christians spoke Greek, this is the version they used and which became incorporated into the Christian Bible.

The Apocrypha continued in common use among Christians until the Reformation, when the Hebrew canon was chosen as the Protestant Old Testament. Catholic and Orthodox Churches continue to use the Septuagint. The Catholic Church officially declared its choice at both the Council of Trent (1546) and the First Vatican Council (1869-70). {2}

Today, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians use the Septuagint as their Old Testament and include the Apocrypha in their Bibles. The Apocryphal writings are called deuterocanonical by Catholics and anagignoskomena by the Orthodox. The Catholic Church officially declared its choice of the Septuagint at both the Council of Trent (1546) and the First Vatican Council (1869-70). {2}

Protestants, however, use the Hebrew version of the Old Testament and exclude the Apocrypha. The reformers rejected the Apocrypha because it was sometimes used as a basis for certain Catholic doctrines and because the Jews have never included it in their biblical canon.

The only theological significance of the acceptance or nonacceptance of the Apocrypha is that the Books of the Maccabees support prayer for the dead, which Protestants do not accept. {3}

Books of the Apocrypha

1 Esdras

1 Esdras is virtually identical to Ezra in the Hebrew Bible (i.e. the Christian Old Testament), with one notable addition in the middle of chapter 4.

2 Esdras

The author of 2 Esdras asks questions, like Job, in order to understanding the meaning of suffering.


Tobit tells the story of a righteous Israelite, of the Tribe of Naphtali, named Tobit living in Nineveh after the deportation of the northern tribes of Israel to Assyria in 721 BCE under Sargon II.


The narrative revolves around Judith, a daring and beautiful widow, who is upset with her Jewish countrymen for not trusting God to deliver them from their foreign conquerors.

Additions to Esther

Six additional chapters appear interspersed in the book of Esther, as it appears in the Hebrew Bible. Additional sections include an opening prologue that describes a dream had by Mordecai and another records prayers for God's intervention offered by Mordecai and Esther.

Wisdom of Solomon

This book is of genre of wisdom literature, similar to Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.


Ecclesiasticus is a book of ethical teachings, composed from approximately 200 to 175 BC, and written by the Jewish scribe Shimon ben Yeshua ben Eliezer ben Sira of Jerusalem.

Baruch/Epistle of Jeremiah

This book is categorized with prophetical books like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel. In canonical literature, Baruch ben Neriah, was Jeremiah's scribe.

Prayer of Azariah/Song of the Three Children

The Prayer of Azariah is a passage that appears after Daniel 3:23 in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles.


Susanna was a Hebrew wife who was falsely accused. As she bathes in her garden, having sent her attendants away, two lustful elders secretly observe her. When she makes her way back to her house, they accost her, threatening to claim that she was meeting a young man in the garden unless she agrees to have sex with them.

Bel and the Dragon

The narrative of Bel and the Dragon is incorporated as chapter 14 of the extended book of Daniel. The chapter is formed of three independent narratives, which place Daniel at the court of Cyrus, king of the Persians.

The Prayer of Manasseh

The Prayer of Manasseh is 15 verses of the prayer of king Manasseh of Judah, who is recorded in the Bible as one of the most idolatrous kings of Judah (2 Kings 21:1–18; 2 Chronicles 33:1–9).

1 Maccabees

The setting of the book is about a century after the conquest of Judea by the Greeks under Alexander the Great, after Alexander's empire has been divided so that Judea was part of the Greek Seleucid Empire.

2 Maccabees

2 Maccabees does not attempt to provide a complete account of the events of the period, instead covering only the period from the high priest Onias III and King Seleucus IV (180 BC) to the defeat of Nicanor in 161.


  1. "Apocrypha,"Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions, 47.
  2. "The Time Between the Testaments," NIV Study Bible, 1432.
  3. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 2nd ed., 193.